It would be easy to shrug away Ticket To Paradise as something mild and airy that goes down smooth—an easy pick for an airplane watch, or if you’re ever stuck in a hotel with basic cable. But you will find no such pussyfooting here. This movie stinks, truly stinks, and the fact that it had the component parts to be a winner makes it all the more frustrating.
George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the last among a certain kind of Hollywood A-lister, play estranged couple David and Georgia. He is an architect, or something, because we see him stomping around a construction site with a hardhat, and it’s unlikely that he’s tying steel. We see Georgia at her enormous L.A. gallery, mocking the modern art that she’s selling. (“I think it’s upside down,” she says. I believe I saw a similar gag on The Flintstones.) The point is they are both super successful, but we never see them talking about their work and they’ve got the time to disappear for a while without checking in or taking meetings or anything. I can barely do that and I write about movies on the internet, for God’s sake, that’s a notch below dog catcher.
Their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) has just graduated from law school, so as a gift to herself before starting work at a big firm she’s taking her best pal Wren (Billie Lourd) on a trip to Bali. (Wren is bringing an enormous supply of multi-colored condoms.) While there, Lily becomes enchanted by a hunky seaweed farmer (it happens!) named Gede (Maxime Bouttier), and soon thereafter she sends a message back to her parents: I’m getting married.
While David and Georgia truly can’t stand to be in the same room together, they agree to present a united front—they will fly to Bali and try and knock some sense into their daughter. They concoct the strategy to appear to be cool with the decision, but sow seeds of doubt.
There’s nothing about this that isn’t fertile ground for a good old fashioned screwball comedy. The problem is that director Ol Parker, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daniel Pipski, seems completely allergic to jokes. Bring a microscope with you to a screening of Ticket to Paradise and report back if you can find anything funny. Is Dever shouting “Dad, you’re embarrassing me!!” while Clooney mugs and shakes his rump to C+C Music Factory considered humor? Maybe to those who have given up on movies it is.
Clooney, it has well been established, has comedy chops, but there’s only so much he can do with no written material. He contours his voice and smirks, weaving his head to put as much spin as he can on barbs and would-be witticisms, but this gets tiresome after about 10 minutes. His zings at his ex-wife eventually paint him as an unlikable jerk. Roberts’ abundant natural charisma is lost, unfortunately, when she’s portraying just another wealthy white woman in paradise.
Kaitlyn Dever, so very funny in Booksmart, has a one-note character here: she is defined by being in love with her new boyfriend. Why? Well, he’s handsome, and he seems committed to a mellow life harvesting seaweed in a very photogenic spot. He’s also madly in love with her, but he’s got even less motivation. She’s straight-up boring, and you need to figure that vacationing college grads come in by the busloads, no? There’s nothing about her that stands out. If anything, Billie Lourd’s character has 10 times the personality (and dresses with more panache, too.) It just feels like someone sketched “they are in love” on a first draft of this screenplay and never got back around to filling it in.
The Bali of Ticket To Paradise is a joke. Most of the movie is set at a luxe resort, except for an engagement party thrown by Rege’s extended family. Here we get a surface view of Balinese culture, seen only on a beach. We see no real life. No one goes to a grocery store in this movie. There’s no depth, other than everyone is saintly. Here was an opportunity to dig in to a fascinating culture (google “Balinese monkey chant”) and present it against modernity, and we got nothing. And while it’s obvious that David and Georgia (and we, the audience) are meant to ultimately support this marriage, no one bothers to ask basic questions. What is she going to do there? Her career plans have gone from the legal world to “hanging out.” Can a couple live on love and seaweed alone?
Ticket To Paradise already opened in Europe and is doing quite well, and this year’s The Lost City, while a bit more high concept (and entertaining), shows that comedies with A-listers with advancing age can still draw people to the theater. The location photography in this one is certainly pleasant (each character has their own “I’ve never seen anything more gorgeous” moment) so the fault here really lies with the writing and direction. It’s as if everyone made this movie about the joy of being on vacation—while also taking one.