‘Ticket’ to Nowhere

Julia Roberts and George Clooney no longer equal romantic comedy gold

Nobody’s making rom-coms like they used to, or so people have lamented. If you believe that, I guess you might take it on blind faith that a Julia Roberts and George Clooney reunion in Ticket to Paradise is a winner. 

Don’t. There isn’t much rom to speak of here, and definitely no com. If you’re looking for a delightfully silly throwback, might I recommend this spring’s The Lost City? 

TICKET TO PARADISE★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Ol Parker
Written by: Ol Parker, Daniel Pipski
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Kaitlyn Dever
Running time: 104 mins

Julia and George play bitterly-divorced parents of a college grad (Kaitlyn Dever) going off to Bali for a three-month vacation before she, somehow, becomes a lawyer. Even though she seemingly just got her undergrad degree. But she changes course when she falls in love with a Balinese seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier) and gets engaged, summoning her self-absorbed gallery owner mom and architect dad for the wedding. 

This is the kind of generic setup that, in the right screenwriters’ hands, could still make for a great time. But this movie’s operating under the condescending assumption that merely the presence of these (Once) Great Movie Stars will conjure the good vibes. There is no wit to speak of, just a sort of wan invocation of past tropes. You could feed a bot a steady diet of ’90s entries in this genre and it would spit out something approximating Ticket to Paradise. The familiar beats are here, but there’s no there behind them. 

From the moment we meet them, Julia and George – I’m just going to call them that because you never forget that’s who they are – are snippy and shameless, talking over each other loudly in public and doing that cornball sitcom arguing thing: “Fine.” “Fine!” “Great.” “Great!” Oy. They keep asking not to be seated next to each other, and yet! Great screwball comedies do, indeed, turn on the fun of watching top-flight actors bickering. I mean, let’s just revisit these two snarking at each other in Ocean’s Eleven, for god’s sake. But Roberts and Clooney, older now but no less inherently watchable, simply don’t get any good words to say. Neither do Billie Lourd and Lucas Bravo, capable comedic actors stuck in limp supporting roles.

The contrived plot turns on the exes getting together on trying to stop their daughter from marrying the seaweed farmer. The movie tries to make it less about them being snobs and more about them being marriage-phobic, but it’s just one in a long series of details that fall apart under the gentlest of scrutiny. 

Ticket To Paradise
George Clooney and Julia Roberts in ‘Ticket To Paradise.’

To its mild credit, the movie, actually filmed in Australia, does right by its Balinese characters and culture. Agung Pindha, a first-time actor playing the father of the groom, is an affable fellow who tweaks George for maybe having assumptions about his hosts being savages. And none of the Balinese people are buying any of George and Julia’s shit; they immediately get what they’re up to. 

In maybe the biggest indication this ship has steered way off course, there’s a sequence in which Julia and George get drunk on local moonshine, annihilate the young people at beer pong, and dance to some ’80s rap which makes their daughter cringe. Roberts busts out her trademark laugh, and they just slap the soundtrack right over it. Nobody puts Julia’s laugh in a corner! It’s why we show up, man. (And by we, I mean those of us old enough to remember Pretty Woman, or as my husband misremembered it, Pretty Hooker.) 

As Neal Pollack pointed out in our podcast discussion, Ticket to Paradise makes for an interesting, and unflattering, juxtaposition with another posh-folks-in-the-tropics project: HBO’s The White Lotus. But where Mike White’s dramedy skewered the rich for their oblivious narcissism, Ticket to Paradise lamely reinforces that these two are fundamentally good people. The evidence? They (spoiler alert) eventually abandon their plan to actively sabotage their daughter’s happiness. Baby steps, I guess.

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Sara Stewart

Sara Stewart is a film critic and a culture and entertainment writer whose work is featured in the New York Post, CNN.com, and more. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Sara's work can be fully appreciated at sarastewart.org. But not on Twitter, because she’s been troll-free since 2018.

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