Good on Paper, 2021.
Directed by Kimmy Gatewood.
Starring Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Matt McGorry, Taylor Hill, Britney Young, Beth Dover, Rebekka Johnson, and Rebecca Delgado Smith.
After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true.
Everyone sees that there is something off about Dennis (Ryan Hansen, navigating the character’s initially harmless awkward and intelligent demeanor into something full-blown narcissistically entitled once the cracks are exposed, with pinpoint precision) in Good on Paper. The exception is Iliza Shlesinger’s Andrea (the comedian also writes the script here, which also appears to be an adaptation of events in her life and a cinematic interpretation of the standup routine that followed), a 34-year-old (often mistaken for 35 in an amusing running gag) moderately successful standup comedian struggling to break into Hollywood. Dennis does admittedly sound good on paper; he’s sharply dressed, knowledgeable, well-spoken with a robust vocabulary, and works with hedge funds. Andrea actually sums it up best herself in the early goings; he’s pompous with abundant kindness.
The red flags are obvious to the audience and characters surrounding Andrea, such as her hyper and well-meaning outrageous best friend Margot (Margaret Cho). As such, it can be mildly frustrating watching Andrea pull back on her skepticism anytime a fishy scenario arises. Typically, a dynamic like that would decrease engagement levels (no one likes or wants to root for characters making dumb decisions), but Good on Paper (which is actually directed by GLOW talent Kimmy Gatewood, who handles this tricky mixture of tones competently) realizes it has to probe into why such an independent, confident, and smart woman would drastically lower her guard and believe the most obvious of fibs.
That’s where the early narration and occasional cutaways to standup comedy come in, but even without those aspects, it remains clear why Andrea (or going one step further remembering that this is also a true story based on a disturbing fabrication, albeit likely somewhat exaggerated for more laughs, Iliza Shlesinger) wants to hold out hope and selectively see only the good. She even goes as far as doing things red-pillers spend hours on YouTube brainwashing low self-esteemed and lonely into thinking never happens; an objectively stunningly beautiful woman looking past less than desirable physical traits to try out a relationship. It’s not so much naivety, rather doing the thing every self-proclaimed “one of the good guys” encourages a woman looking her way to do, which is giving him a chance.
The goofy performance from Ryan Hansen strains believability at times (I’m willing to bet that the real guy was a much more convincing liar) but is easily forgettable once the genre shifts from comedy to dramatic (alongside his acting shifting into sinister and sociopathic territory). That’s not to say Good on Paper has no mysterious quality, just that the question is not “is Dennis lying”; it’s “has he told the truth once about anything yet.” And that’s especially concerning considering the weightiness of certain personal details Dennis divulges about his life, depressing things that we actually hope are true just so the guy is not as much of a monster as he could be.
There is also a subplot involving Andrea’s competition, a friend and rising actress named Serrena (Rebecca Rittenhouse). They moved to Los Angeles years ago together, both seeking work in television and movies, so naturally, some jealousy has arisen on the part of Andrea. It’s a plot thread that doesn’t fully work into the larger picture, but one that nonetheless feels real and allows Andrea’s character additional honesty in expressing that jealousy before realizing her real enemies. The script is also wise enough to play with conventions of buddy characters and subvert clichés.
For the most part, Good on Paper is still a comedy (Andrea and Margot go on stakeouts where Dennis supposedly lives, where some odd revelations occur). However, it’s fair to say that the story here is more enthralling when it’s operating on a terrifying wavelength. A few funny situational sequences put Dennis on the spot, digging himself deeper into lies or trying to escape, but it doesn’t compare to the horror of the final 25 minutes. In that regard, Good on Paper‘s conclusion feels rushed as the film ends when it starts kicking into exhilarating gear. Still, as an exercise combining stand-up comedy and narrative storytelling to process emotional trauma, Iliza Shlesinger has written something that’s both broad and profound. Someone make sure she never does garbage like Spencer Confidential again, giving her better roles and more comedy specials. Put her career on the same upward trajectory as Andrea’s.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com