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‘Good on Paper’ an aptly-titled rom-com

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A major key to the ongoing success of Netflix is their ability to find and exploit market inefficiencies, an ability that applies to both the business side of the operation AND the production side.

Take romantic comedies, for instance. Rom-coms once ruled the box office, but have largely fallen off in the face of an increased reliance upon IP-based CGI-driven franchise fare. However, plenty of rom-com aficionados (I count myself among their number) are still out there. Netflix, seeing that underserved audience, set loose their algorithms and whatnot and began churning out romantic comedies. Not all of them were good and a lot of them were bad, but they still scratched that itch.

A more recent trend has been the notion of somehow deconstructing the rom-com, making different sorts of films using that genre as a template. And again – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“Good on Paper,” the latest Netflix rom-com, is the streamer’s latest effort at that sort of spin. Directed by Kimmy Gatewood from a script written by comedian Iliza Schlesinger (who also stars), it’s ostensibly based on true events from Schlesinger’s life. It’s a clear effort to find a darker angle on the traditional romantic comedy.

A clear effort, but not a successful one.

The film suffers from an inability to settle on precisely what kind of movie it wants to be, which is really too bad; if “Good on Paper” committed more fully to going in either direction – either more thoroughly embracing the shadows or going in a more traditional rom-com direction – it would have been far better. Instead, it’s a clumsy and intermittently watchable film, one that squanders a great deal of potential.

Andrea Singer (Schlesinger) is a stand-up comedian. She’s been working hard trying to make it in Los Angeles for a decade; there have been small gains here and there, but for the most part, she’s been spinning her wheels. Not just professionally, either – she’s made some unfortunate choices in her personal life as well. She’s got good friends – bar owner Margot (Margaret Cho, “Friendsgiving”) foremost among them – but mostly, she feels like she needs a change.

Said change appears with a chance meeting on a plane. Dennis (Ryan Hansen, “Fantasy Island”) is completely different from Andrea’s usual type. He’s a bit of a nerd, a little awkward – a Yale grad and hedge fund manager – but he does everything he can to make her happy. She initially considers him just a friend, but slowly, he wins her over and they begin to date.

At first, everything is great, but as the relationship progresses, Andrea starts to have some questions about Dennis. So much about him seems too good to be true … so what if it actually IS too good to be true? Parts of his story start to fall apart under the slightest scrutiny, leaving Andrea and her friends – not to mention frenemy and rival Serrena (Rebecca Rittenhouse, TV’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) – to explore further.

The more she digs and the more she learns, the more questions she has, leaving her to wonder just who Dennis really is – and if that real person is someone that she wants to be with.

“Good on Paper” is an idea that seems, well … good on paper. The idea of injecting a degree of mystery and intrigue into the standard rom-com formula is a solid one; we’ve certainly seen success in the past with movies that have folded other genre concepts and tropes into the rom-com mix.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here. The primary issue is the lack of commitment to the bit. Rather than leaning hard into the more shadowy aspects of their concept, the filmmakers seem content to just wander around the edges. We see occasional hints of the darker (and more interesting) movie this could have been, but for the most part, we stay on the surface, never plumbing the depths. Would that have worked? Tough to say, but at least it would have been a genuine effort rather than the middling muddiness that we get here.

And the truth is that this movie could have been a perfectly cromulent rom-com in its own right if they had simply followed the usual formula. Schlesinger and Hansen make a charming enough pair; play the circumstances straight-up for laughs and that could have worked too.

You can kind of see the breakdown when you watch it – the first act is pretty standard rom-com before things (too) gradually start to deteriorate. Unfortunately, they never deteriorate to the degree that they would need to to help make “Good on Paper” the movie that it ultimately aspires to be.

(There’s a device the film uses where we get occasional snippets of Andrea/Iliza’s stand-up act, where she’s ostensibly talking about the development of her relationship. It’s fine, but I’ll admit that I still don’t know quite how I feel about it.)

All that said, there’s stuff to like here. I mentioned the Schlesinger/Hansen chemistry, and it’s real – they’re both solid comedic performers and there’s something of a spark there. Unfortunately, the film never takes full advantage, leaving the two of them too often at arm’s length, even when they’re meant to be embracing. The supporting cast is good – Cho in particular is a standout – but this is essentially a two-hander, and while the pair does their best, it isn’t enough to fully clarify the proceedings.

“Good on Paper” earns its title, a decent idea whose execution doesn’t measure up. With as many rom-coms as Netflix churns out, they can’t all be winners. This one, unfortunately, is another example of that axiomatic algorithmic truth.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 June 2021 16:16

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