Sometimes, even though a movie doesn’t work, it makes me want to see what its star does next. The comedy Good on Paper (streaming on Netflix) is about a woman who gradually begins to suspect that the nice guy she is dating may not be everything he appears to be. I liked the protagonist, I liked her friendships and I even liked the reasons she came up with for how she ended up with a guy who was clearly questionable right from the start. When I think of those pieces individually, Good on Paper seems to be an easy recommendation. Yet the whole isn’t as good as the sum of its best parts. There are so many scenes where he acts weird and she doesn’t seem to notice. The chemistry between the two shouldn’t be great, but it should be convincing enough that I understand why she wants to spend time with him. The screenplay is never able to make the guy more than a plot concept. Unfortunately, he is too big a part of this story for that not to become an issue.
Andrea is a popular stand-up comedian, struggling to get an acting career going. On a flight home following a disastrous audition, she meets Dennis. He is nice, smart and really devoted to her. This seems like the makings of one of those rom coms where a woman realizes she is what is getting in the way of her own romantic happiness. Then, she begins to wonder if Dennis is keeping secrets from her.
What Good on Paper has in its favor is Iliza Shlesinger, a popular stand-up comedian who stars and wrote the screenplay. As Andrea, she is charming, funny and likable. As a writer, she sees her character clearly, has a bunch of amusing one-liners and generates earned emotion for the climax. Her performance proves she has the skills to be a comedic lead. Even after I was sure the movie wasn’t clicking for me, I still wanted things to work out for Andrea. Shlesinger based the story on something that actually happened to her. It does seem like viewers are seeing the truth (or at least a version of it) when she talks about her career frustrations. She comes off as a real person, not just the female half of a romantic comedy. Her screenplay is at its strongest when it is a little more focused on her life than its situation.
I believed Andrea, her best friend, Margot, and her career rival, Serrena. What I had difficulty buying into was her relationship with Dennis. The idea of it is fine; how she ends up with him and what she says when she learns the truth all make sense. But nearly every scene they have together features him being slightly off and her not seeing it. She isn’t head-over-heels and she is definitely not naïve about love. Though I can see why she would fall for him, Shlesinger the writer doesn’t make Dennis interesting enough or their relationship complex enough to allow me to think about anything else anytime he is on-screen. As a result, the central plot started to actively take away from the stuff that was working. It is so obvious where things are going that, after approximately the halfway point, Good on Paper spins its wheels whenever Andrea and Dennis are together. Since that is the story it is trying to tell, that is a problem it can’t quite overcome.
Despite that major complaint, I sincerely hope Shlesinger gets the opportunity to write and star in another movie. She has the screen presence, comic timing, wit and honesty to deliver something really good. It didn’t all connect this time, but enough did that it’s evident she has it in her.
2¾ out of 5
Iliza Shlesinger as Andrea
Ryan Hansen as Dennis
Margaret Cho as Margot
Rebecca Rittenhouse as Serrena
Directed by Kimmy Gatewood
Written by Iliza Shlesinger