Director Kimmy Gatewood‘s Good on Paper (2021) claims to be a ‘partially true story based on a lie’. That partially true story is the romantic ups and downs of Andrea Singer, a fictionalised version of American stand up comic Iliza Shlesinger, who writes and stars in this enjoyable romantic mystery which, at least initially, plays as if Seinfeld (1989-1998) wandered onto the set of When Harry Met Sally… (1989).
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Stand up for love
Singer is trying to make her way in the world of showbiz, whilst also navigating the perilous waters of romance. Her dream is to appear on a billboard in a prominent part of town.
We therefore have familiar scenes of soul-crushing auditions for roles in movies and TV shows, which reminded me of similar moments in La La Land (2016) (sans the singing).
The narrative is interspersed with short snippets of one of Singer’s fictional stand up comedy routines, decrying the state of her love life (clearly one aspect of the film which is firmly rooted in Schlesinger’s own day job and experiences).
Too good to be true?
A chance meeting introduces love interest Dennis (Ryan Hansen). Coming across as a slightly creepy ‘Clark Kent’, Dennis is meant to be of the ‘too good to be true’ variety; successful and affable, but is perhaps not quite as charming as the film would like you to think.
Apart from the fact he is ‘nice’ and ‘kind’, it never really seems apparent why Andrea would be with this guy, as he may look ‘good on paper’, but doesn’t come across as either of these things on screen.
Ultimately, the character of Dennis is the weak link, suffering from being underwritten and rather one-dimensional. He is certainly not as efficiently fleshed out as the other supporting characters in Schlesinger’s sharp screenplay.
Is the support as good as the headline act?
Those supporting characters include a fun turn from fellow comedian Margaret Cho as Andrea’s best friend Margot. Suspicious of Dennis’ modus operandi, she accompanies Andrea on evermore anarchic schemes to find out if there is more to him than meets the eye. There is an edgy, irritable quality to her character which makes her fun to watch.
Another enjoyable character comes in the form of Serrena, played by Rebecca Rittenhouse, who is clearly having a ball as an ‘of the moment’ young actress scooping up all the lead roles, becoming seemingly omnipresent at Singer’s auditions and read-throughs, and adorning the very billboards Singer covets.
In truth, I was far more interested in this aspect of the story, which focuses on the rivalry between the weary and cynical central character and Serrena, who is on the receiving end of some very creative barbs.
Good on Paper: good on screen?
Good on Paper starts very promisingly, but doesn’t quite know where to go from about two thirds of the way through. Is it a romantic comedy about a struggling actress, or a farcical romantic mystery about someone who isn’t quite who they say they are?
The movie tries to be both, and can’t quite juggle the two, concluding the mystery element in a rather haphazard and unsatisfying way. However, Good on Paper is definitely energised by a charismatic, witty lead performance from Shlesinger which, for me, is the film’s main strength.
That said, Schlesinger’s first screenplay has emerged as an entertaining 90 minutes tucked away on Netflix which, despite what feels like the rather chaotic and rushed finale, is good enough on screen to seek out.
Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Stills from Good on Paper sourced from IMDb. Copyright: Netflix.
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