Released: 23rd June
Seen: 13th July
When a stand-up comic takes their act and turns it into a movie you can have a few different results. If you want a really good example of a comic’s act made into a pretty good movie, Trainwreck took Amy Shumer’s set and created a fairly fun film with enough jokes to make it through. You could also just film a particularly important set and release it, like Kathy Griffin did with her most recent comedy special that revolved around her recent controversy… third option is to take one specific joke from a set, make it into a film and forget to put jokes in there completely. Sure, that idea might sound good on paper but in practice you get… well, the film Good On Paper.
Good on Paper follows struggling stand-up comedian Andrea Singer (Iliza Shlesinger) who has bad luck with dates until she runs into a surprisingly average man named Dennis Kelley (Ryan Hansen). OK he’s mostly just average in the looks department (a thing they bring up many times) but he’s also a Yale graduate who runs a hedge fund so clearly he’s a great pick, right? Well, the more Andrea dates Dennis the more she and her friend Margot (Margaret Cho) start spotting holes in Dennis’ story. Maybe Dennis isn’t as good as he seems?
You know a comedy is not working when you stop it halfway through to go do something and realise that you haven’t even laughed once. It’s honestly amazing, I watched Good On Paper and I don’t even think I cracked a smile. It was a white noise machine disguised as a comedy that almost begs you to ignore it so it can just quietly exist in the background where it won’t bother anybody. It just wants to fart out whatever story it thinks that it’s telling so it can get about cashing the cheque.
It’s not even like this premise doesn’t naturally lend itself to comedy, because it’s literally what the Rom Com genre thrives on. Throw in an edgy comic or two and this could’ve and should’ve been hilarious, but it’s not. It’s not even good at following the structure of how this kind of thing goes, or indeed any structure that could elevate the movie to something worthwhile. The actual reveal of the lie is at the start of the final act and then… well, he sues her for assault and about 10 minutes later the movie ends with a half assed resolution and no jokes.
What’s annoying is that the lead actress is actually kind of good, enough that I was willing to give her a chance. Sure, she was acting across Ryan Hansen who only seems to pop up in movies I just don’t like (Fantasy Island, Like A Boss) and he just offered me nothing to latch onto but surely Iliza should’ve been able to at least ad lib a good joke here right? No, not even a quick witty line that might elicit a chuckle. Even during the bits that feel like they just filmed at her regular stand up gigs aren’t funny thanks to how they’re edited and shot… and how there just were no jokes said during the entire time she’s on screen. I’m sure she’s funny elsewhere, but not here.
Throw on top of that how Good On Paper is shot like they’re on borrowed time, like they have each location for 15 minutes and need to get the shot right now. Who cares if it’s well framed, visually interesting or blocked decently? It’s not like it’s awful, I’ve seen far worse but can you try and make it look above a rough cut first take? It’s a comedy, can it feel like I’m in a place where laughter is even wanted?
Good on Paper just has nothing about it worth talking about, which makes reviewing it very difficult. It’s not even so bad that I can spend paragraphs reveling in the shocking badness, the only thing shocking about this film is the blandness. Maybe they put paper in the title because the experience of watching this film is like staring at a blank piece of A4 paper… nothing there to enjoy, nothing there to hate, it just exists as a blank canvas that’s designed to take up space in a Netflix menu in a way that won’t be taken away whenever the next big film company decides to try their own streaming service.