Good on Paper

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Ryan Hansen and Iliza Schlesinger in Good on Paper.
Ryan Hansen and Iliza Schlesinger in Good on Paper.
Photo: Netflix


Good on Paper




3/5 Stars


After always putting her career first, stand-up comedian Andrea Singer randomly meets the perfect guy, Dennis. But Andrea's friend, Margot, is convinced that he is not the man he pretends to be. 


In the late '90s, I watched a film called Mr Wrong starring, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Pullman. In it, Martha (DeGeneres) meets a man, Whitman (Pullman), who appears to be perfect but was actually gaslighting her and her family. It becomes almost impossible for Martha to escape her relationship with Whitman. As a child, this film terrified me and seemed more like a thriller than the romantic comedies that were prevalent during that time. Good On Paper reminded me a lot of Mr Wrong but with a clearer direction and a lesson at the end, which could be because it is based on a true story.

The first half of Good On Paper begins like a generic romantic comedy – comedian Amanda (Iliza Schlesinger) meets hedge fund manager Dennis (Ryan Hansen) on a plane, and the two immediately hit it off. She invites him to a comedy show, and the two become fast friends. It is almost When Harry Met Sally-like how they go from being friends to something more, other than it being obvious that Dennis always wanted more. However, the second half of the film shifts when it becomes obvious that there is more to Dennis than what meets the eye, and we watch Andrea come to grips with this as well.

Iliza Schlesinger, a popular comedian, wrote Good On Paper based on a similar experience she had with an ex-boyfriend, and a lot of it felt real. I could relate because I recognised the red flags in Dennis as being something that would have alarmed me if one of my friends were dating someone like him. Interspersed throughout the film are comedy sets done by Schlesinger (in a sort of Seinfeld way) which adds insight into themes of the film, such as how women's intuition is often doubted. Schlesinger did a good job for her first lead role, and because she wrote the film, the character is very delicately written. Amanda is unashamedly herself, she focuses on her career, has casual hookups, and no one judges her about it in the film. But Amanda also grows throughout the film; she learns to believe and trust in herself. This isn't a romance so much as it is a film about self-discovery and trusting your instincts.

I've been a fan of Ryan Hansen since he played Dick Casablancas on Veronica Mars, but somehow I could not get on board with his portrayal of Dennis. I'm not sure if this was because of decisions made by Hansen or because of directing decisions by Kimmy Gatewood, but they did not do a good job of selling the character in the first half. He seemed a little creepy from the beginning, and other than the obvious emotional manipulation, I did not understand why Amanda would be friends with him – let alone date him. I know that Hansen can play a convincing, charming romantic lead; he did it well in 2 Broke Girls, and perhaps we are supposed to know that Amanda is making a mistake, but it essentially makes our protagonist, Amanda, look like a fool. The entire time, I was recoiling when she kept on getting spun up in his web. And that, too, might be a consequence of Schlesinger being too close to the story, in that she always sees Dennis as detestable and did not do a good job of selling to us what made him appealing to her in the beginning.

Easily, the favourite part of the film, for me, was Margaret Cho's scenes as Amanda's best friend, Margot. She is extremely underutilised in the film, but she shines in the last third of the film. In particular, there is one scene when she describes how well prepared she is for a stakeout that I laughed so much for. Rebecca Rittenhouse plays Serena, who is Amanda's nemesis, and the way her relationship with Amanda develops is also a great redemptive arc and focus of growth for Amanda's growth. Both these supporting actors were excellent in their roles and helped to elevate the film, especially comedically.

Something I think the film struggles with is trying to work out exactly what it is. It calls itself a romantic comedy, but it feels like everything but. One can easily see how it maybe aligns itself with other films of the genre that subverted it, like 500 Days of Summer and My Best Friend's Wedding. But what the mentioned films did well is that made us see the appeal of the couple together. We loved Summer and Tom; and Jules and Michael, even if we understood why they did not end up together.  However, nothing about Amanda and Dennis felt romantic; it felt manipulative, it felt problematic, it felt uncomfortable.

In many ways, it felt more like a straight comedy; the scenes between Margo and Amanda were hilarious. And some scenes felt extremely dramatic. It straddled an uncomfortable balance between what it wanted to be and what it ended up being. Many times it was like a story a friend told you about a bad ex that they had that didn't bother to only edit down to the entertaining moments.


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