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Ticket to Paradise

George Clooney and Julia Roberts team up again, this time for their first rom-com together — and their charisma and banter is the Queensland-shot film's biggest drawcard.
By Sarah Ward
September 15, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
September 15, 2022
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Here we go again indeed: with the George Clooney- and Julia Roberts-starring Ticket to Paradise, a heavy been-there-done-that air sweeps through, thick with the Queensland-standing-in-for-Bali breeze. The film's big-name stars have bounced off each other in Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve and Money Monster before now. Director Ol Parker has already sent multiple groups of famous faces to far-flung places — far-flung from the UK or the US, that is — as the writer of the Best Exotic Marigold flicks and helmer of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Enough destination wedding rom-coms exist that one of the undersung better ones, with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, is even called Destination Wedding. And, there's plenty of romantic comedies about trying to foil nuptials, too, with My Best Friend's Wedding and Runaway Bride on Roberts' resume since the 90s.

Hurriedly throw all of the above into a suitcase — because your twentysomething daughter has suddenly announced she's marrying a seaweed farmer she just met in Indonesia, if you're Clooney and Roberts' long-divorced couple here — and that's firmly Ticket to Paradise. As The Lost City already was earlier in 2022, it too is a star-driven throwback, endeavouring to make the kind of easy, glossy, screwball banter-filled popcorn fare that doesn't reach screens with frequency lately. It isn't as entertaining as that flick, and it certainly isn't winking, nodding and having fun with its formula; sticking dispiritingly to the basics is all that's on Parker's itinerary with his first-timer co-scribe Daniel Pipski. But alongside picturesque vistas, Ticket to Paradise shares something crucial with The Lost City: it gets a whole lot of mileage out of its stars' charisma.

A quarter-century back, David (Clooney, The Midnight Sky) and Georgia (Roberts, Gaslit) were the instantly besotted couple impulsively tying the knot (if Ticket to Paradise is successful enough to spawn more movies, a prequel about the pair's younger years will likely be on the list). Alas, when this film begins, they can't stand to be anywhere near each other — room, city or state — after splitting two decades back. With their only child Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, Dopesick) graduating from college, they're forced to play faux nice for a few hours, but squabble over the armrest, then get publicly competitive about who loves their daughter more. This wouldn't be a rom-com led by Clooney and Roberts if schoolyard teasing logic didn't apply, though: they fight because sparks still fly deep down. And they keep verbally sparring when Lily announces a month later that she's met Bali local Gede (Maxime Bouttier, Unknown) on a getaway before she's supposed to put her law degree to its intended use, and that she'll be hitched within days.

If another template that Ticket to Paradise happily follows is to be believed, parents don't respond well to their kids plunging into matrimony, especially without notice. David and Georgia are no different, desperately wanting to stop Lily from repeating their own mistakes and willing to zip halfway around the world to do so — hence the feature's airfare moniker. They attempt to unite over sabotaging the wedding, but old habits die hard amid tussling with biting dolphins, stealing rings and putting up with Paul (Lucas Bravo, Emily in Paris), Georgia's younger, deeply infatuated boyfriend. Amid drunken beer pong matches and daggy dances to 90s tracks, plus getting stuck in the Balinese jungle overnight as well, older feelings die harder still, of course — and a ticket to surprises or fresh material, this clearly isn't. 

While Clooney and Roberts' parts were written for them, Ticket to Paradise's creaky script really could've been trotted out with any well-known duo, character-wise. It's a far better film with this pair in it, though, and the sole reason to visit this sunny-enough but hardly paradisiacal slice of cinema. Everything they're both known for works a charm, from his silvery suaveness, reflective finesse and reassuring twinkle in the eye through to her megawatt smile and ability to ground cookie-cutter romantic-comedy contrivances — and their collective way with flinging barbed words back and forth. Ticket to Paradise is really a ticket to watching its leads and they deliver, by-the-numbers roles and all. The fact that Clooney and Roberts have become big-screen rarities somewhat, regardless of whether they're together, helps (his only film since they last combined in 2016's Money Monster is 2020's aforementioned The Midnight Sky, while she just has 2017's Wonder and 2018's Ben Is Back to her name).

It's hardly astonishing, then, that the rest of the cast is largely left among the scenery — although Dever and her sparky Booksmart co-star Billie Lourd (American Horror Story), who plays Lily's hard-partying best friend Wren and steals scenes like her mother, Carrie Fisher, also has in the genre, do the best they can with supremely thinly written characters. If filmmakers want to keep popping them in movies together as well, that's always welcome. They fare better than anyone representing Bali is allowed to, including Bouttier. Infuriatingly, Hollywood hasn't grown out of ignoring or oversimplifying those who aren't white and privileged in many vacation-centric affairs, or going the comic-relief route (see: Agung Pindha as Gede's father Wayan), or ramping up the supposed exoticism of other cultures while making jokes about their languages and traditions — Emmy-winning TV series The White Lotus pointedly excluded lately.

There's a self-consciousness to Ticket to Paradise's excited postcard-style mentions of how stunning Bali is, too, at least for everyone watching Down Under. Cinematographer Ole Birkeland (Ali & Ava) gives the movie the requisite wanderlust-courting sheen, including traversing beaches and mountains, but not knowing it was filmed in Australia is virtually impossible thanks to wall-to-wall media coverage during the late 2021–early 2022 shoot. That forced feeling doesn't gel with how hard the feature wants to be laidback and jaunty, as Clooney and Roberts' rapport genuinely is — even with David and Georgia's overt friction. This pair have done many things in their careers, jointly and apart, and making Ticket to Paradise anything more than standard isn't one of them. Seeing them team up in their first rom-com together is still worth watching for that alone, but consider this the cinema equivalent of an average package tour with great company.

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