Iliza Shlesinger’s new Netflix feature should have stuck to standup
My dating history has been chaotic; rarely have I dated someone who “made sense” for me. My partners have included a literal shepherd who never finished high school and barely spoke English (but played flute on the beach like an honest-to-god satyr) and a polyamorous medical student who still routinely invites me on international adventures despite the fact that I haven’t seen him in three years. Obviously, these relationships have all been doomed.
That’s why “Good on Paper,” comic Iliza Shlesinger’s new Netflix movie, hit close to home. The “not-rom-com” follows a thinly-veiled version of Iliza herself, a comic-turned-actress named Andrea Singer who decides it’s finally time to settle down, get her life together and start dating a Nice Guy instead of all of the flaky, barely-employed — but hot — actors she’s been with.
Other than speaking to my own personal worries, however, the movie tends more toward the hammy and preposterous than it does toward the affecting and relatable. When Andrea meets a cleancut investor, Dennis (played by Ryan Hansen bedecked in horn-rimmed glasses), who brags incessantly about going to Yale, we instantly know it won’t work out. And it’s just as obvious that something is off early on when his card is declined at the same dinner he spends telling Andrea he bought her a Cartier bracelet that’s, conveniently, just not ready yet.
The movie is so predictable that it shouldn’t be watchable, but what makes it fun is the sharp comedy that made Iliza Shlesinger successful enough to sell out tours, pen a book, “Girl Logic,” and have multiple Netflix specials, including “Elder Millennial” — all of the above largely about the trials of dating as a millennial.
“Good on Paper” is so squarely in her wheelhouse that it feels like a standup routine made into a movie — and in fact, that’s the whole idea. It turns out that we’re watching the story behind one of Andrea’s hit standup routines, complete with clips of her monologue spliced in.
It’s a clumsily-executed gimmick, but Shlesinger is legitimately funny, and her wry observations carry the movie. Despite the movie’s flaws, her comments are relatable.
There’s a scene early on, for example, in which she tries to convince herself to like Dennis more since he is, after all, so good on paper. “It’s not that he was ugly, per se — he had a charm to him when his clothes were on,” she explains, trailing off as he lowers himself, shirtless and sporting jiggling love handles, into the pool next to her — blocking her from the muscular man she had been flirting with. “To say I was not physically attracted to him was an understatement,” she admits.
It’s slapstick, and not very nice, but you can feel the mental gymnastics she’s going through to like the guy she feels like she’s supposed to like — something I know I’ve done every time I’ve been dating a guy I knew was supposed to be great, but I just wasn’t into.
To its credit, the movie seems self-aware leaning into its wackiness instead of trying to be particularly smart or subtle. Comedian Margaret Cho plays Andrea’s grouchy, survivalist friend Margot, who suspects Dennis of being the scammer he so obviously is, and sends Andrea to find evidence on the mean streets of Beverly Hills equipped with walkie-talkies and a guide on turning urine into potable water — just in case she’s captured.
Little of the movie holds together when you step back — the characters aren’t well developed and it’s never clear why Andrea falls in love with Dennis or how she misses his lies or why he would pursue her. There’s not even a clear conclusion — that you shouldn’t date someone just because you feel like you’re supposed to, or that it’s good to follow your heart.
It’s watchable, but perhaps you’d be better off going to the source material and watching one of Shlesinger’s comedy specials.