Good on Paper wittily upsets rom-com conventions, but doesn’t produce much substance beyond this initial fake-out.
Following a string of stand-up specials and a sketch show, comedian Iliza Shlesinger has once again teamed up with Netflix to create what is maybe the pair’s biggest collaboration yet. Good on Paper, written by Shlesinger and directed by Kimmy Gatewood, follows Andrea Singer (Shlesinger), a stand-up comedian attempting to make the leap to acting. When Andrea meets Dennis (Ryan Hansen), a Brooks Brothers-bedecked hedge fund manager, she falls for him, ignoring all her reservations and a parade of red flags, because he’s just so good on paper. With a prestigious job, an education worth humblebragging about, and a lifestyle that fits seamlessly into hers, Andrea finally has a shot at the sort of guy all women are told they should hope falls into their laps, but there’s far more to Dennis than it first appears.
Based on Shlesinger’s own experience of being scammed by a serial liar ex-boyfriend for almost two years, Good on Paper is a rom-com designed for people who are suspicious of rom-coms as a matter of reflex; if you’ve ever asked “But why is the stranger on the plane being so friendly to her?” or thought “Nobody would move in together that quickly!”, it’s fair to think Good on Paper might be in your lane. With interludes of Andrea performing stand-up routines, finding ways to both impose a clearer narrative on her own life as well as spelling out the subtext for anybody in the back who might have missed it, Good on Paper is a cynical look at a world that pretends that meet-cutes happen, and takes aim at gender dynamics that dictate what men and women are entitled to. Wrapping its cynicism in a mainstream, Netflix-approved rom-com aesthetic just makes Shlesinger’s punches land harder, and musters an empathy that often isn’t afforded to the victims of such manipulators, in film or real life.
But despite this welcome recalibration, it doesn’t mean that this movie is necessarily one with teeth, or that it has much to say beyond its Feminism 101 rhetoric. Good on Paper is hemmed in by the constraints of its own genre, committing more to milking a few laughs than crafting any meaningful commentary on dating in the golden age of grifters, which would be fine if its bigger comedic moments weren’t few and far between. The film never quite nails down a stable tone, which is understandable given its gloriously messy premise, but it also limits just how much it can accomplish in subverting any one genre. With a supporting cast including Margaret Cho, Matt McGorry, and Rebecca Rittenhouse, the film spreads its entirely adequate laughs around, even if none of the individual actors ever really shine, with even Shlesinger not quite living up to the standard set by her live performances. What Good on Paper does provide is a perfectly serviceable anti-rom-com (non-com? vom-com?), and proof that Shlesinger is a talent to watch in writing, acting, and comedy, even if she’s not quite there yet.
You can currently stream Kimmy Gatewood’s Good on Paper on Netflix.