Movie Stars! Actual, neon-light, capital letter Movie Stars! George Clooney and Julia Roberts star in Ticket to Paradise, a romantic comedy that understands the power of Movie Stars being Movie Stars. Does the script have to be great? Not if the Movie Stars are having fun. Does the romance need to be romantic? Not especially, if the Movie Stars smile a lot. Can the film be a little bit culturally insensitive and get away with it? Yep—if the Movie Stars are charming enough. Ticket to Paradise knows all of this and makes use of Clooney and Roberts being Clooney and Roberts. It’s light, fun, mostly charming, and skates past that cultural insensitivity on good vibes and Julia Roberts’ laugh.
It's basically a two-for-one rom-com. Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, my beloved Loretta McCready is THRIVING, and I love this for her) is the perfect daughter of David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts), a pair of bitter, bickering exes who cannot stand to be around one another even twenty-plus years after their divorce. They organize their lives around Lily and avoiding each other, but Lily’s graduation from law school brings them together. Or maybe college, it’s not exactly clear how old Lily is, and I tried to do the math based on context clues, but it didn’t quite add up. At any rate, Lily is going to be a lawyer, and has a job as a prestigious firm waiting for her after a vacation to Bali with her best friend, Wren (cinematic chaos queen Billie Lourd). While on vacation, Lily meets the handsome and charming Gede (Maxime Bouttier) and decides to get married after a whirlwind romance.
David and Georgia form a rare truce in order to break up Lily’s marriage. Themselves the unhappy result of a hasty, just-out-of-college marriage, they want to stop Lily repeating their mistake, so they head off to Bali to sabotage Lily’s wedding from the inside. This is DEEPLY f-cked up! The film never acknowledges how off the deep end David and Georgia are, but then, Paradise is a rom-com, and those are about vibes, not consequences. And the vibes are, as the youths say, good. Clooney and Roberts are effervescent, with his crinkly smile and her honking laugh, and they both have great hair, and their chemistry is palpable, if a little on the friendly side for what is supposed to be a second-chance romance. The film doesn’t sell rekindled romance so much as two people finally burying the hatchet, but who really cares when Clooney and Roberts are bickering their way through a jungle adventure?
Lily and Gede are cute as the young couple in love, but again, the romance is a little flat. It’s never actually clear why Lily loves Gede, or Gede loves Lily, and you start to think David and Georgia might have a point. If there was overwhelming chemistry, it would be easier to buy their whirlwind romance, but their chemistry is pleasant, not consuming. And we never get to see them as individuals, Lily is only ever an extension of her parents, and Gede is little more than a Ken doll holding the groom’s place in the wedding scenes. Honestly, the rom-com revival is littered with films that don’t actually tell love stories, they just show us beautiful people occasionally mashing their mouths together. The unsexiness of this cinematic age has infected this genre with passionless romance, and if it weren’t for the actual Movie Stars propping up Paradise with the sheer power of their smiles, it would be egregious in this film. As it is, it’s just kind of odd we never quite know why Lily fell for Gede so quickly.
As for that spot of cultural insensitivity, Bali is presented as a stereotypical paradise, a place where white people can find themselves. Paradise, directed by Ol Parker, looks beautiful. It’s a great travelogue for Bali. But Gede and his family are barely characters, they have no agency or interests of their own. There is a jab at David for assuming seaweed farmers would be poor, when actually they supply a vibrant global agricultural trade, but beyond that frankly subtle moment, the setting, while beautiful, hinders the film. Paradise is so reliant on Clooney and Roberts to carry it, it’s like Parker, who co-wrote the script with Daniel Pipski, didn’t bother actually creating characters so much as sketching outlines for people to inhabit while Clooney and Roberts do their Movie Star thing.
Is it a bad film? No. It is enjoyable, and overall, a good time. But if you can withstand the star power of George Clooney and Julia Roberts, you might notice the cracks in the foundation. Both romances are rather unromantic, the characters are barely-there ideas of people, and “paradise” is reduced to a wealthy white person’s idea of a dream vacation. Rom-coms are fantasies, so gilding the lily—no pun intended—is fine. It’s not like I expect Ticket to Paradise to wrestle with the socio-economic implications of the international vacation industry. But had the characters been better written, had Balinese wedding customs been treated less as cutesy performances for tourists, Ticket to Paradise would still be a fantasy about falling in love on vacation, without the weird aftertaste.
Ticket to Paradise is now in theaters.
Attached: More of George and Julia at the Ticket to Paradise LA Premiere the other night because look at them.