Iliza Shlesinger met a guy once who she felt no attraction to, but who said all the right things. He was “good on paper,” in other words.
So against her initial instincts, she gave him a shot.
And then everything went to hell.
A successful comedian and actor whose dramatic roles include last year’s Pieces of a Woman, Shlesinger turned her experience with that compulsively lying boyfriend into the new Netflix film Good on Paper. It mocks and dismantles stereotypes about “gold diggers” and “the friend zone” and gives us new buzzwords like “cuttlefish.” (Imagine a bottom-dwelling creature that lurks in the friend zone.)
Good on Paper — which she stars in, wrote, and executive produced — begins with the advisory, “This is a mostly true story based on a lie.” That advisory, Shlesinger says on the latest MovieMaker podcast, is true. (You can listen above or wherever you get podcasts.)
“It’s true in that I did date someone and all of the events within their relationship, give or take, are real things that happened,” she says. “All of the lies are real lies that were told to me. I don’t think I have the kind of mind that could make up a person who… makes up the kind of lies that that person did, because they’re so weird.”
Shlesinger was friends with the person for a year before they started dating, and she began to see cracks in his stories. If she saw the person on the street today, she would probably just walk the other way.
“This isn’t retribution,” she explains. “It’s a comedy. There is no intention of attack anyone. There’s no anger. As an artist, I think it was a very cathartic process, writing it, but… I don’t care if that person ever sees the movie. I just wanted to make something great.”
Maybe he’ll turn on Netflix someday and realize he was being a jerk?
“I don’t think a sociopath has that sort of remorse or hindsight,” says Shlesinger.
She doesn’t see the film as a warning about dishonest men. It would be almost impossible to precisely replicate the very specific type of oddball who tells the kinds of lies her ex told. But she does want to lay bare the tricks of so-called nice guys who expect some kind of special praise for baseline decency.
“This type of human, this type of crazy person, just puts on the mask of the underdog, but really… we find out in the end, there really is no substance,” she says.
The movie also makes fun of the societal expectation about the kinds of “nice guys” women should date.
“Women are so vilified for going after an attractive man,” she says. “Whatever it is you see in a guy, you’re always wrong, whether it’s money, or looks or anything, it’s always, ‘Oh, she’s shallow.’ But it’s always OK in reverse. And what I wanted to look at with [my] character was like, she’s not doing anything wrong, even if she is dating the wrong kind of guy. And all the things that he used to sort of entice her are very normal things that one should expect: You should expect a guy to be sweet, and smart and kind. And so I really wanted to play with what we expect women to expect, and how we vilify women for dating hunky guys, when it’s like, ‘Well, why is that wrong?’”
Good on Paper, written by and starring Iliza Shlesinger, is now streaming on Netflix.
This story was originally published on June 23, 2021 and has been updated.