Ticket to Paradise is a prime example of the invaluable necessity of movie stars. For had it not starred Julia Roberts and George Clooney, it may well have been insufferable. As it is, it’s a charming little romp that could be better paced and have a script with a bit more bite.
Ol Parker, who made Mama Mia! Here We Go Again, as well as the cult classic Imagine Me & You, has returned with a movie somewhere between the two. The film is long on charm, thanks to the two leads, but short on anything else. There are a few antics, but Roberts and Clooney can do this movie in their sleep.
Written by Parker and Daniel Pipski, the plot is a boilerplate rom-com. David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) travel to Bali to try and talk their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) out of getting married to Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a local seaweed farmer she met while on her vacation celebrating her graduation. The catch is that David and Georgia are happily divorced and find themselves thrown together to try and stop their daughter from ruining her life.
Seeing Dever in a movie like Ticket to Paradise is always a pleasant surprise. It reminded me of seeing Michelle Williams in The Greatest Showman. Like Williams, Dever is an actor to loves playing emotionally distraught characters, and it’s been a while since Booksmart. So it is refreshing to see her play a character whose most significant problems are her spoiled wealthy parents who love her so much they want to destroy her marriage before it begins.
For most people, it would hardly be a tragedy if their daughter were to marry a successful farmer on a tropical island. But then again, as Lily points out late in the movie, what Georgia and David are trying to do is attempt to correct their own mistakes through her. Much of the film consists of Parker and Pipski spinning the wheels with David and Georgia stealing rings, taking Lily and Gede to cursed temples, and what have you all while trying to sabotage their daughter’s happiness.
Thankfully, Lily has Wren (Billie Lourd). Sadly, Ticket to Paradise is so paper thin of a story that it has no real clue what to do with Lourd’s Wren. A party girl who has more than a strained relationship with her own family, she is shockingly absent throughout most of the film. She’s meant for comedic relief, but Parker and Pipski don’t know what to do with her. Lourd has a few scenes where she riffs, but they feel remarkably superfluous in a movie filled with filler scenes.
As I said before, if Parker had cast anyone else as the leads, Ticket to Paradise would be unbearable. But Roberts and Clooney have an easy charm about them that makes anything they do seem rascally more than devious.
However, Parker and Pipski throw a wrinkle into the plot with Paul (Lucas Bravo), Georgia’s current, younger boyfriend and a pilot. Bravo’s Paul is a bumbling, accident-prone himbo who seems to think there’s more a future in her relationship with Georgia than anyone else, including Georgia.
Despite everything, I enjoyed Ticket to Paradise mainly because of the charisma of its stars and the film’s relaxed vibes. Parker and Pipski take some time to give us scenes from the islander’s perspective, mostly Gede’s father, Wayan (Agung Pindha). Pindha started as a cultural consultant, but he proved so charismatic that they made him Gede’s father. Gede’s mother has few speaking lines and has little to do but stand next to Wayan and Bouttier.
Refreshingly Gede figures out David and Georgia’s plans early on and tells his father. He doesn’t tell Lily this, presumably because it would hurt her feelings, but mainly so that Parker and Pipksi can give the couple some conflict to resolve later in the film. A better film would have pitted Georgia and David against Wayan and his wife, a kind of city mouse versus country mouse deal. But that would have involved seeing the people of Bali as actual people and not set dressing for what is essentially a beautiful advertisement to drive up tourism for the country.
A task Ole Bratt Birklenad is more than capable of. Ticket to Paradise is filled with post-card beautiful landscape photography interspersed with a bevy of sunsets and sunrises ripe for motivational memes. Birkeland captures the beauty of Bali but not its soul or personality. In that sense, Birkeland has stayed true to the movie in that his camera is the eye of white people visiting a far-off land and viewing it not as a place with history and culture but as a mysterious place separate from the rest of the world.
As I’ve said, all of this would sink Ticket to Paradise if it weren’t for two movie stars. Clooney and Roberts snipe and bicker with ferocious delight that, of course, they will end up together by the end. But, on the other hand, I like how the rekindling of their romance didn’t end with them confessing their love to each other; they’ve already done that.
Ticket to Paradise is, at its core, nothing but a tourist ad for Bali. It’s a pleasant ad, don’t get me wrong, but a commercial nonetheless. Though close to the final shot, Birkelnad’s camera captures a look on Wayman’s face. It’s a look of a man who knows what affluent white people moving into the neighborhood means.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures
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