A decent story in need of a tone shift
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat, Good on Paper is not a particularly good movie. However, in sticking to my principles, I must still respect the film on some level.
The reason for that is, out of all the film genres out there, romantic comedies are probably my least favourite because they are just so lazy. Other than the sexist undertones and unrealistic portrayal of each gender, the cliches of these movies have become so well known that they are laughable.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before.
A man and woman meet, but they do not get along; he’s too immature, and she’s too uptight. But, after he helps her score big at her firm, they eventually realize that they have stronger feelings for one another. Throw in a love triangle, an over-top-romantic gesture, interrupting a wedding, running through an airport, and/or kissing in the rain, and you have yourself every rom-com ever.
Don’t get me wrong, some films have managed to put enough spin on this genre in order to stand out. 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were an entertaining mix of goofy and sweet with a slight immature edge. 500 Days of Summer was unapologetically pessimistic and realistic for the genre. Even When Harry Met Sally, a personal favourite of mine, told a very relatable story of two people in search for something that was always right in front of them.
Good on Paper is one of those romantic comedies that tries to put that refreshing spin on the genre, only with one glaring issue. It’s neither romantic nor funny.
Based loosely on the experiences of writer and star Iliza Schlesinger, Andrea Singer is a stand-up comedian and aspiring actress who hasn’t had much luck with dating. While on a constant binge of guys with more muscle than brains, she finally meets the charming Dennis (Ryan Hansen) on a flight home. They become fast friends, eventually lovers, until she (with the help of her friend, played by Margaret Cho) starts suspecting he’s not the person he claims to be.
On the one hand, I have to credit Schlesinger for giving one of her most traumatic experiences a comedic edge. She has shared this story on both Joe Rogan’s podcast and a Comedy Central special, and it’s both a gripping and sad story from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the transition to film does not reflect.
This is because the film never goes as dark as the original story was. This a tale involving manipulation, lies and stalking, but Schlesinger writes and plays it like a lighthearted 90s film. This could have been something bizarrely unique and dark like Ingrid Goes West, but instead, it feels watered down with empty jokes.
The film is even interrupted abruptly by her stand-up routine, a la Seinfeld, which more feels like the movie reminding you that you are, in fact, watching a comedy. With that said, the story is told in such a way that it at least keeps you invested enough to figure out what’s going on; it just isn’t as “poetic” as Schlesinger thinks it is.
For one example, she tries tackling a long-criticized cliché in rom-coms: guys judging women on their looks above all else. However, throughout the film, she does the exact same thing with men, and her justification is simply, “Well, they do it too.”
Fair, but not remarkably interesting commentary.
Then, in the final act, Schlesinger tries so desperately to add such an outlandish concluding message that it deviates from her original narrative to the point of absurdity.
So, on the one hand, I must respect this movie for swerving so far away from the conventional rom-com tropes and Iliza Schlesinger for finding the humour in her misery. On the other hand, I just wish her misery was a bit funnier.
While I can certainly see Schlesinger moving onto more significant projects in her career, I hope they’re good on both paper and film.