Ticket to Paradise may be held down by its lazy formulaic rom-com procedure, but George Clooney and Julia Roberts are very charming and entertaining.
If you make a list of the biggest stars in American cinema, two of them would easily be George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Although not every single project they work on is critically acclaimed, the two of them are significant cinematic presences – superstar-level bankability that made plenty of projects boatloads of money (Ocean’s Eleven, Up in the Air, Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, just to name a few). From Clooney’s fascinating yet slightly irritating one-note suaveness to Roberts’ effervescent charm, there’s something so intriguing about watching them work. The pair have worked together on a couple of projects in the past, but it has been a long while since that happened. And what better way to reunite in the year when rom-coms are having somewhat of a revival, with Marry Me, The Lost City, Fire Island, and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, amongst others released in 2022. Clooney and Roberts lead the pack in Ol Parker’s latest feature, Ticket to Paradise (titled after the annoying Eddie Money track, ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’), a throwback to the major studio rom-com.
Like most, if not all, 90s A-list star-led and pre-Judd Apatow rom-coms, Ticket to Paradise is not set on planet Earth. Ok, let me rephrase that. Ticket to Paradise is not set on the version of planet Earth that we live in. Everything is glamorous, and the people are gorgeous, their faces glistening thanks to the sparkling rays of the sun-kissed holiday destination. This can be resumed by the phrase: “beautiful people in beautiful places”. It is quite ridiculous, but if you enter the film with that state of mind, then you could begin to enjoy it. In this world, George Clooney and Julia Roberts play a divorced couple, David and Georgia. The two of them have fabulous jobs; however, one of them is a bit baffling. While I buy Julia Roberts as an important art gallery person, I just can’t believe that George Clooney is an architect. It quickly reminded me of Mark Kermode’s joke about Meg Ryan playing a helicopter pilot in Courage Under Fire as a way to judge ridiculous casting decisions. Regardless, those two jobs aren’t crucial to the plot, so it isn’t bothersome.
The two have avoided any amount of contact with each other for almost twenty-five years. Yet, they are reunited with one another to attend the college graduation ceremony of their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever). And the constant snarky yet totally entertaining bickering between the two begins, mocking and teasing each other with biting comments about their past and “better” future. To get a couple of well-earned vacation days before starting work, Lily and her best friend, Wren (Billie Lourd), go to Bali – where everything is exotic, stunning, and pulsating with a vibrancy that makes everyone joyful (not a small amount of melancholy is in this paradise of wide bright smiles). But, as you may have expected, this holiday fueled by romance will not end so quickly. Lily falls in love at first sight with a seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier). After that quick meeting for their daughter’s sake during her graduation, the bickering divorcees will have to see each other again after Lily has quickly become engaged. David and Georgia are worried for their daughter’s future, leaving a promising career and life in the United States to take off to Bali for a different lifestyle.
So, even though they hate each other, the two team up in order to break up the relationship. Why are they so hesitant? Because they don’t want Lily to make the same mistakes as them. If you were to pause the movie right then and there, easily, you could write down exactly what happens in the rest of the picture. The trailer even spoils the entire film for some reason. This may be the fault for using the classic formula of a rom-com structure, which shows its lazy nature in telling this story – the “rinse and repeat” cycle of these types of films. Of course, it is a bankable formula ticketed for box office success (at least back in the day), but one would like to see something fresh and reinvigorated, as in the likes of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World. Ticket to Paradise is exactly what it says on the tin, for better or worse. You can’t expect more from it. The audience already knows what they are going into.
Ticket to Paradise has no room for surprises in its story, as it is beat for beat a 90s rom-com, which causes the audience to have little emotional reaction or attachment. There are no sensations of heartbreak, sadness, or relatability this time around, which is a significant fault when one-half of the film is based on romance and devotion. Ol Parker isn’t interested in reinventing the genre; he just wants to make a throwback to those days when rom-coms were being thrown to the audience left to right, where it depended on the chemistry and charm of its stars to elevate the predictable narrative and clichés. Ticket to Paradise may have low-tier cinematic sensibilities, and it overstays its welcome by almost fifteen minutes, but one is just star-struck when George Clooney and Julia Roberts are on-screen, as they carry the film on their back from top to bottom. Their chemistry is top-notch, creating dynamics of quarrels and slowly falling in love again, which is so much fun to watch.
Whether they are bickering with one another or dancing while drunk to Run-DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’ and House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, one is just charmingly mesmerized by A-list star magnetism. The two of them are masters in the subgenre, so it is impressive that they haven’t missed a step even though Clooney and Roberts haven’t headlined a rom-com in many years – handling the film’s snappy dialogue and screwball comedy set-pieces with ease. The film works because of them; if they hadn’t delivered on the pizzazz and elegance, Ticket to Paradise would have been a total clunky disaster. There are moments where, in other rom-coms, I would have usually rolled my eyes. Still, in Ol Parker’s feature, thanks to Clooney and Roberts’ quick and occasionally snarky line delivery, those moments managed to get a chuckle out of me. The film is pretty funny, and it isn’t because of the script; it’s because of these two Hollywood megastars. They might easily be the best in the show, but their performances are lifted by the supporting turns of Kaitlyn Dever and Billie Lourd (I want to see her in more films, please!).
Ticket to Paradise doesn’t have the directorial glamor, summery sensation, and effervescent heartaches of Ol Parker’s previous feature, the highly comforting Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The Hollywood gloss is ever-present, which isn’t a bad thing. Still, I would want some stylistic departure from what we know and have seen from rom-coms in the past. Ole Bratt Birkeland is a good cinematographer, as we have seen in his works Ali & Ava and The Arbor. Yet here, it feels as if he’s too restrained to get creative because he must stick to an already established look. Ticket to Paradise may not be the grand “homage” or “return” of the big-studio rom-com that Ol Parker intended, but it sure is a film that benefits from its stars and their classiness. Who wouldn’t like to go on vacation with George Clooney and Julia Roberts? It’s bright, sun-kissed, and funnier than one might expect, yet still held down by the lazy formulaic procedure of its narrative concoction.
Ticket to Paradise will be released in US theaters on October 21, 2022. The film is now showing in cinemas in the UK & Ireland and select countries worldwide.