By James Murphy
George Clooney and Julia Roberts re-unite on screen for the fifth time, this trip around under the direction of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again writer and director Ol Parker. In the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Roberts and Clooney met in Vegas; in Ticket to Paradise, the tourist destination is Bali. The similarities end there, though. This is no elaborate heist drama, but a paint-by-numbers rom-com that succeeds more with the com than it does with the rom.
In Ticket to Paradise’s opening scenes, Clooney’s David and Robert’s Georgia prepare separately for the law school graduation of their daughter, Lily, played by rising star Kaitlyn Dever of Dear Evan Hansen fame. Their five-year marriage imploded a decade-and-a-half ago and they bicker and banter, but mostly bicker, whenever they are faced with the displeasure of meeting each other. The film’s opening credits race the narrative forward, as Lily and her dorm mate Wren Butler (Billie Lourd) enjoy an Insta-envy evoking island getaway in Bali. Lily meets seaweed farmer Gede (Maxime Bouttier), it’s love and first sight; cue the wedding, which David and Georgia vow to stop. Robert’s new partner, Paul (Lucas Bravo), is the third corner of the love triangle, but isn’t that sharp.
Beyond the exotic imagery and the repartee between the film’s two megastars, much of which may have been improvised, there is little substance to this film that wasn’t conveyed in the trailer. It is, admittedly, consistently funny, but Clooney and Roberts are funny in the out-takes and they’d be funny in an elevator. The transition from college graduation to marriage proposal proceeds at such an expeditated rate that it is difficult to comprehend or believe in Gede and Lily’s love story, despite both characters being sympathetically played by Dever and Bouttier, who do the best they can with the material given to them. The depiction of Balinese life is airbrushed, a tourism advertisement; no malaria, no Bali belly, no sand in the underpants. Lourd and Bravo get some giggles but don’t steal their limited scenes. At times there a suggestion that the film’s central message is “there is no perfect partner and life is not a holiday”, but then veers towards advocating that “you should just treat yourself, go live in Bali, you only live once”.
It’s doubtful whether paradise truly exists but if it does, it isn’t depicted here.