*** out of ****
(for some strong language and brief suggestive material)
Released: October 21, 2022
Runtime: 104 minutes
Directed by: Ol Parker
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Kaitlyn Dever, Maxime Bouttier, Billie Lourd, Lucas Bravo
When you throw two beloved stars together with this kind of feisty chemistry, it’s a ticket to a fun date night.
Reigniting the sparks they struck in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Trilogy, George Clooney and Julia Roberts team up again in Ticket to Paradise, a more traditional romantic comedy than those previous heist flicks. Pitting these two real-life close friends against each other is an obvious collaboration that, for many, is long overdue. As expected, Clooney and Roberts do not disappoint – even (and perhaps especially) as their star wattage must illuminate and carry a rather pedestrian script.
Delivering exactly what trailers sold and nothing more, Clooney and Roberts star as David and Georgia Cotton, two bitter, bickering exes who must reluctantly become allies when their college-grad daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, Dear Evan Hansen, Booksmart) becomes engaged to a young, hunky Indonesian seaweed farmer while on vacation in Bali. Hoping to stop Lily before she makes the same mistake they rushed into, David and Georgia fly off to Bali – and its lush, beautifully art-directed South Pacific paradise – to sabotage the impending nuptials.
The hijinks that ensue may be uninspired (stealing wedding rings?), but Clooney and Roberts deliver, not only with the kind of rapier repartee and physical slapstick that defined the screwball Rom-Coms of Hollywood’s Golden Age (I half-expected a brief, reverse-violent homage to the spat between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn that kicked off The Philadelphia Story), but also the raw remorse that each confesses about their mistakes, imbuing sincere regret (and culpability) into why their marriage fell apart.
Sure, it’s a stretch to believe that characters played by Clooney and Roberts never remarried in the nearly two decades since their divorce (I mean, my goodness, just look at them), but that’s the kind of far-fetched allowance that one is willing to concede in order to see these two go at each other on-screen.
The key to why Clooney and Roberts work so well is simple, but crucial: when David and Georgia fight (which they spend most of the time doing), we know that George and Julia don’t really mean it. But when David and Georgia find themselves laughing together or being tender towards each other, we know those sentiments between George and Julia are genuine. No pairing since Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan has brought that kind of endearing, real-life subtext to their on-screen chemistry.
Dever is a young talent with a wonderful career ahead of her but she feels slightly miscast here, good yet a bit too demure as the young ingénue, a genre archetype that is better served with bubbly enthusiasm and a wide-eyed romanticism. Indonesian actor Maxime Bouttier is her perfect meet-cute counterpart, a strong yet sensitive exotic charmer that fulfills the female fantasy this whole movie is delivering.
Billie Lourd and Lucas Bravo provide reliable comic relief (Lourd as Lily’s boozy bestie and Bravo as a lovable foil who could keep David and Georgia reconciling), but the supporting cast is simply tasked to fulfill stock roles and nothing more.
Director and co-writer Ol Parker is in familiar territory, having helmed Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and scripted other escapist adult fare like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but his vision here lacks the ambition of the genre’s best (especially such high concept modern classics like Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, et al, that were rooted in inspired, singular hooks).
Even with their inevitability, the most effective Rom-Coms make you feel what’s at stake. They make you feel the heartbreak (even the tragedy) of if, somehow, the inevitable didn’t happen. You become emotionally invested. In Ticket to Paradise, you never feel the stakes, just the inevitability.
Granted, this could’ve faulted too far in the other direction by trying harder than a star-driven Rom-Com should, but the net effect of this middling, safe, predictable effort is a movie that has less laughs than it should and evokes less feels than you’re hoping for. But thankfully those are minor gripes, because you’ll still find yourself smiling from start to finish.