Good on Paper REVIEW – More Thriller Than Comedy?

Good on Paper is sometimes funny, but also kind of messy.

Good on Paper
Good on Paper

Good on Paper is the mostly true story of something that happened to comedian Iliza Shlesinger (who plays Andrea in the film) in real life. She met a guy on a plane, he told her he was from Yale, and after three months, his castle of lies just crumbled to the ground. It’s a bit that she’s actually performed in her stand-up before, which became the bones for this feature length film. In the film, he’s played by Ryan Hansen and goes by the name Dennis Kelly, while Margaret Cho is Andrea’s bestie Margot.

The premise sounded pretty bonkers, and Shlesinger does great work with her stand-up, so I was eager to see how the film would pan out. I can’t say I’m disappointed, since Good on Paper isn’t exactly bottom of the barrel stuff, but neither is it completely well-executed.

It’s not that it isn’t entertaining. I mean, Iliza Shlesinger is a funny woman, Margaret Cho is also a funny woman, and whenever the two are together, it’s just absolute chaos – in a good way. So yes, when the pair share the screen, or plan various hijinks, it’s pretty hilarious. But the film is also…scary.

The thing is, Hansen plays Dennis so creepily, and he is so sketch from the very beginning. This leaves the viewer basically yelling at the screen for Andrea to see the light and call the bastard out. He is a walking red flag, so much so that anyone would be able to tell that something isn’t right. The film is titled Good on Paper, but this man is so obviously not – a Yale degree and the copious amounts of cash he was flinging around in the beginning would not be enough to lure anyone into a dalliance. So when the ‘twist’ happens, no one will be left gasping in their seat.

The choice of Hansen is inspired, with Good on Paper taking a page out of Promising Young Woman‘s playbook by casting against type, since we’re used to seeing Hansen as the goofy hot guy. Dennis is not hot, a point the film makes sure to bash over our heads, and he is held in contrast to the much hotter guys Andrea dates until he tricks her into being with him. Dennis’ anger about Andrea’s dating choices, and her rejection of him because he doesn’t possess all the markers of success does offer some interesting insight into gender politics in the dating world, and how some men think that just because they are nice to a woman, they are owed something.

However, the film doesn’t seem keen to really explore this, and the last act really gets tonally messy, with some Gone Girl-esque moments and a courtroom scene that feels so out of place. There is a great sense of anger directed at Dennis, who is absolutely villainised and not redeeming in any way by the time we reach the end. I can understand why, he’s a liar and he misrepresented himself, but even the likeable traits about him that Andrea lists feels practically non-existent.

I did like the exploration of female competition and friendship, since Andrea is experiencing roadblocks professionally, and hates Rebecca Rittenhouse’s Serrena because things just come so easily to her (or so it seems). Andrea’s true frustration is with herself, and it is her ability to own her flaws and mistakes that makes her a refreshing protagonist.

I do appreciate the ambition here, of trying to swing into anti rom-com territory, a genre that is difficult to pull off. The problem is, no matter how much Shlesinger and Cho make me laugh, the revelation of Dennis as this big fat liar is horrific, no matter how the film tries to spin it.

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Good on Paper
Iliza Shlesinger and Margaret Cho on screen together is a winning combination. Unfortunately, more is needed to make Good on Paper succeed as an anti rom-com.