After five Netflix comedy specials, Iliza Shlesinger has of late been trying to crack into acting. Her misguided turn in a misbegotten Mark Wahlberg vehicle didn’t work, but with Good on Paper, it’s clear she’s found a path forward: write a part for yourself, for which you essentially play yourself, and drop in some stand-up bits because why not? Setting aside your personal mileage variance on Shlesinger’s comedy (I don’t dislike it), there’s just not enough material here for a film.
Nevertheless, as directed by Kimmy Gatewood (her feature debut), Good on Paper introduces us to Andrea (Shlesinger), a comedian and struggling actor. She’s also single, adding one more burden to her life. On that beat, however, Andrea begins narrating her meet-cute with Dennis (Ryan Hansen), a Yale grad who works with hedge funds—and who is also too-good-to-be-true (except, apparently, in the looks department). The pair hit it off as friends, Andrea resists his advances, and then, yes, they inevitably get together. Before we get to that point though, we know something is indeed off about Dennis. Yet we still have to wait an extremely long and uncomfortable time before Andrea figures this out. Padded with Shlesinger’s stage banter and some bland commentary on Hollywood and feminism, Gatewood eventually veers us into a “wacky” third act—which does not enliven the film much—and we arrive at a peaceable enough ending. There is a chuckle or two to be had here, and Margaret Cho (as the best friend) juices the energy as much as she can. But again: there’s just not enough here.
While Gatewood’s direction isn’t particularly electric, the real issue with Good on Paper is the circular calculation of Shlesinger’s comedy. Her problems aren’t quite problems—e.g. “my comedy career is great but I’m just too smart to be an actor”—and her chosen method of animating her thesis, such as it is, plays somehow as both psychotic and obvious. Perhaps Shlesinger should just try to relax.