Good on Paper movie review & film summary (2021)

Kimmy Gatewood’s “Good on Paper” is a catfishing (or cuttlefishing, if you take Margot’s definition) comedy I’m sure more than a few people can relate to, even if not to the comic extremes taken by Shlesinger, the film’s star and writer. The movie’s tagline says it’s “mostly” based on a true story, which means Shlesinger includes some of the less-funny, still-creepy emotionally manipulative tricks Dennis uses to get Andrea on his side, including the extreme misogyny that motivates his behavior. Yet, despite its bitter truths, “Good on Paper” still keeps a sharp wit and sense of humor about the whole affair. Eventually, the situation escalates into a ridiculous climax before a few surprise twists and turns return the story back down-to-earth. “Good on Paper” plays like a mystery but one that telegraphs who the bad guy is, with a few laughs at his expense along the way. 

Shlesinger’s deadpanned, matter-of-fact voiceover shares the commentary duties with interspersed clips from Andrea’s stand-up set. Normally, this would derail the story’s momentum as the lead tries to wring out any last-minute chuckles before moving on, but the way Shlesinger writes the part, she’s almost in conversation with her past (her time with Dennis), present (her voiceover) and future (the point after she’s processed what’s happened to her and can make jokes about it) selves about the ordeal. If only the work of exorcizing all of one’s evil exes was this cathartic. She’s not afraid to make her unlikable or caustic, in fact, it’s one of the more endearing parts of her personality: she’s able to see through and call out everyone’s bullshit except for that of a well-practiced sociopath. When she gets her chance to confront him, it’s a release, both for the character and the audience, to see her regain control and break his spell over her. 

Hansen is a charming foible for Shlesinger. He’s sweet when she’s sour, he’s earnest when she’s cynical. Following the beats of a standard rom-com, it feels as if her defenses are getting in the way of an inevitable relationship, and it effectively makes her feel guilty for what prove to be solid defensive instincts. Even as Andrea is on to Dennis’ lies, Hansen continues his aw-shucks demeanor, digging up one emotional expression or pained physical excuse after another to excuse his questionable behavior. Dennis is a bottomless wealth of darkness whose cruelty is so well-hidden beneath an unassuming facade, it’s a shock when he reveals his true self. 

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