It’s a foolhardy plan to craft a film almost entirely around the onscreen chemistry between two movie stars and hope for the best. But when those stars are George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the combustive power of their pairing will go a long-ish way. Thinly scripted rom-com Ticket to Paradise puffs its way through 104 minutes mostly on the vapors of its lead actors gassing around together, albeit with an assist from spectacular Australian scenery standing in for Bali.
It’s the first time the actors have been paired on screen since dreary hostage drama Money Monster (2016), and it’s their first proper comedy together since they made those first two highly enjoyable Ocean’s movies with Steven Soderbergh at the helm back in the aughts. In fact, it’s the first time in a while either of them have done anything substantial at all for the big screen (Roberts’ last starring theatrical role was Ben Is Back in 2018; Clooney’s was in The Midnight Sky in 2020), so it’s easy to feel generous and welcome them back, especially given how much fun they are to be around. From the point of view of millennials or Gen Z kids, they’re like a seldom-met aunt and uncle, tossing little barbed zingers at each other before they get drunk, do goofy dances to early 1990s bangers and make out.
Ticket to Paradise
The Bottom Line
A comfortingly mediocre throwback.
That is literally pretty much the plot of this movie. Roberts and Clooney are cast as Georgia and David, a couple who were married 25 years ago, had a daughter named Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) and then split up after five years. So supposedly toxic is their antipathy to one another that they can’t even be in the same zip code at the same time.
And yet the script (by the film’s director Ol Parker and co-writer Daniel Pipski) contrives to seat them next to each other at a series of events, like a mischievous deus ex machina with little imagination but magical command over seating placements. First, it’s at Lily’s graduation from university in Chicago, where they compete over who loves Lily more. Then, it’s on a plane to Bali after they’ve been invited to attend Lily’s wedding, the young woman having fallen in love with Bali-native Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a seaweed farmer.
Once David and Georgia land in Bali, the script can’t stop plugging how beautiful the landscape is. Which is kind of weird because, as mentioned earlier, the whole Bali part of the movie was filmed in Queensland, Australia because of issues with COVID and also Oz’s extremely attractive tax breaks, the film’s press notes unabashedly reveal. There’s a strange, doth-protest-too-much quality to all this incessant Bali-boosting, perhaps because the filmmakers might be worried there could be backlash to the fact that the parents of the bride don’t want their daughter to marry a Balinese man — no matter how “incredibly handsome” a guy he is living in the “the most beautiful place in the world,” as Georgia complains to her pilot boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo) on the phone.
Georgia and David say they don’t want Lily to make a bad life choice at the same age they were when they got married. But the film also keeps stressing how wealthy and successful the two are given that they can afford first-class airline seats and a swanky hotel, and so on. It’s as if the film wants to revel in all the markers of white privilege and American hegemony but then pretend that none of that stuff really matters to the main characters; they just want what’s best for their daughter. (Also, does anyone on the planet own as many jumpsuits and playsuits as we see Roberts’ Georgia sporting throughout in her cruise capsule collection?)
This is exactly the kind of self-delusion about income inequality and post-colonialism that was skewered so cruelly and effectively in TV’s The White Lotus recently, among many other like-minded entertainments. But Ticket to Paradise plays Georgia and David’s efforts to sabotage Lily’s wedding so she’ll call it off like it’s some frothy screwball comedy plot from the 1940s. Except Parker (best known for writing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and directing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) is no Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges, and the dialogue here is all mumbling and grunting compared to the bickering lovers’ backchat in classics like His Girl Friday or My Man Godfrey.
While the supporting cast includes some very watchable performers like Dever (wasted here), Bouttier and Bravo, and a few more seasoned comic professionals (Genevieve Lemon, always a delight), their characters are barely developed any more than the many Balinese secondary players and extras, who are little more than occasionally talking set decoration. In an eye-roll-inducing moment, the film even trots out that hoary old gag wherein someone talks for many seconds in a language other than English only to have a second character “translate” the speech into a one- or two-word declaration. (“She says, ‘happy to meet you.’”) Whatever will be next? Perhaps a bit of bedroom farce around men wearing a woman’s trousers? Yup, there’s some of that too.
Perhaps the film’s by-the-numbers predictability will be a help and not a hindrance, especially for an older demographic that’s just simply thrilled to see Roberts smiling while she tries to ruin another wedding, Clooney twinkling his eyes and cocking his head quizzically like he’s been doing since ER. They both do those things so well, and who minds a little nostalgic wallow now and again, especially with actors like these two, aging as gracefully as a pair of migratory birds?
Release date: Friday, Oct. 21 (Universal Pictures)
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Maxime Bouttier, Lucas Bravo, Genevieve Lemon, Cintya Dharmayanti, Agung Pinda
Production companies: Universal Pictures, Working Title, Smokehouse, Red Om
Director: Ol Parker
Screenwriters: Ol Parker, Daniel Pipski
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Sarah Harvey, Deborah Balderstone
Executive producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Julia Roberts, Lisa Gillan, Marisa Yeres Gill, Amelia Granger, Sarah-Jane Robinson, Sam Thompson, Jennifer Cornwell
Director of photography: Ole Birkeland
Production designer: Owen Paterson
Costume designer: Lizzy Gardiner
Editor: Peter Lambert
Music: Lorne Balfe
Music supervisor: Sarah Bridge
Casting: Nikki Barrett
1 hour 44 minutes