Julia Roberts and George Clooney Make ‘Ticket to Paradise’ an Enjoyable Romantic Standoff
Along with action movies, romantic comedies are the ultimate theatrical distraction. The formula is set and you know emotionally what you seek. Maybe now in such uncertain times, a genre that is considered total cornball is primed for a revival as audiences hunger for comfort. Anyone who has experienced the tremors of love and heartbreak might not buy into every second of “Ticket to Paradise,” but at least they will receive the combined charms of Julia Roberts and George Clooney. The two veteran Hollywood stars still back enough youthful goofiness and lovable scruff to sell this kind of plot. Movies have progressed quite a bit over the last few years, but this one pretends it’s still the ‘90s and exotic locations, along with their cultures, are mere backdrops for the cheesy fun.
Roberts and Clooney play Georgia and David, a divorced couple who live comfortable lives apart and like it that way. Their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) has graduated from law school and to celebrate travels to Bali with her best friend. All seems well until the divorcees receive the stunning news that Lily has fallen in love and is now engaged to Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a local seaweed farmer. Georgia and David accept invitations to the wedding, but with the urgent task of wanting to block the marriage from even happening. They both hated the experience of being married so much that they want to stop Lily from making the same mistake at such a young age. Once they land in Bali, with its crystalline beaches and gorgeous landscapes, their mission begins in earnest. They will also have to face the truths about their own failings, and dropping in is Georgia’s new, younger boyfriend, hot French pilot Paul (Lucas Bravo).
Director Ol Parker specializes in popcorn matters of the heart with credits that include “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Parker conceived of the screenplay with co-writer Daniel Pipski as a response to the dread of lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, and as a reaction to his own daughter’s emancipation. “I started writing this movie with my friend, screenwriter Dan Pipski, at the beginning of the pandemic during lockdown. So it was an absolute antidote to the fear and enclosed feel we were all living through. Escaping to somewhere funny and sunny was a huge gift to both of us. Then to go make it was a question of what I would most like to see. What I wanted was to be in a room where everyone was laughing,” Parker tells Entertainment Voice. “My eldest daughter is 21 and is making her own choices, all of which are brilliant but wouldn’t necessarily be mine. So that was the essence of it, looking at her and wondering if what I want for her is necessarily what she wants. You also ponder what exact wisdom you have to give her and how much you should listen to her.”
“Ticket to Paradise” is all about crises of the heart. Everyone has a secure job and live quite well. Even humble seaweed farmer Gede lives in what indeed looks like paradise, next to a serene beach, in a fully-decked home with packed bookshelves. Financially he’s the perfect match for Lily since his farming business has just cut a distribution deal with Whole Foods. Of course there are people who live like this anywhere, but all you need to know about Bali in this movie is that it’s pretty and if you lose the wedding ring, the ceremony cannot continue. The kids are in the background for much of the film anyway. We have more fun watching Clooney and Roberts bicker, roll their eyes, and at the same time try to derail the upcoming marriage. Their best scene is an outing where they challenge Gede to a beer pong match and get really drunk, dancing to ‘90s hits and reliving their rowdy college days. “They work very hard but they were really going for it. The younger actors were just watching them in absolute horror from the other side of the table,” says Parker. “They’re just funny and I would encourage them to be. Yes, we have a script and we follow it, but if they have things to offer we go for it. Some of the biggest laughs in the movie are lines they made up on that day.”
There will no doubt be some snobby approaches to “Ticket to Paradise,” but while it may not even rank with some of the date night hits from the stars’ earlier days, such as “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “One Fine Day,” it’s never a slog to sit through. You get the prerequisite encounters with snakes in caves, accidental poisonings or the shock of waking up next to a certain someone in bed. Lucas Bravo even steals a few scenes as Georgia’s trophy boyfriend, who sincerely loves her and is willing to walk around Bali as a third wheel. Kaitlyn Dever is well-matched with Maxime Bouttier as a sweet, modern young couple. They say everything you expect them to in this movie, bringing along in-laws who look at the two American parents as likable goofballs. Yet at heart there are some more sincere ideas here as well about how we can become more cynical about love as time passes on. The choice a 21-year-old like Lily makes here may be against the grain, but Georgia and David have to learn that their perceived mistakes don’t apply to their offspring. As Parker puts it, “One of the things I admire about the kids in the story is how sure they are about things. It’s something parents can learn from, that optimism and belief and certainty in life.” Optimism and sunny laughter, along with charming bickering, make this one a sunny vacation for fans of this kind of romantic getaway.
“Ticket to Paradise” releases Oct. 21 in theaters nationwide.