‘Ticket to Paradise’ review: George Clooney and Julia Roberts spark an old flame in a rom-com that fizzles out
With teen comedies enjoying a resurgence thanks to the ever-growing popularity of Netflix originals, another once-beloved 00s genre is looking to make its comeback: the rom-com. It’s no small task to attempt to revitalize a genre that’s not much more than dead in the water, but that’s what Ticket to Paradise aims to do – employing genre veterans George Clooney and Julia Roberts to do so. Though Roberts and Clooney are as charming as ever, Ticket to Paradise isn’t quite the feel-good easy-viewing romcom it positions itself as. While Clooney/Roberts devotees will likely leave satisfied, viewers looking for a well-written romance or a fleshed out ensemble cast should look elsewhere for their rom-com needs.
Starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney (both of whom are making their return to romantic comedies after nearly a decade) Ticket to Paradise follows bitter divorcees Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney), whose once passionate romance has long since fallen apart. Though the two ‘hate’ each other so bitterly they’re not on speaking terms and can barely stand to be in the same room together, they’re forcibly reunited when their straight-laced daughter Lily (Kaitlin Dever) suddenly decides to abandon her budding law career and move to Bali with the intent to marry a man she’s just met (Maxime Bouttier).
Intent on stopping their daughter from throwing her life away over a whim, the pair fly to Bali (alongside Lily’s free-wheeling best friend/comic relief Wren (Billie Lourd)) to try and talk Lily out of the wedding. When they arrive, though, they slowly begin to realize that Lily’s beau may be the real deal – and are forced to confront their own lingering romantic feelings as they prepare for the picture-perfect wedding.
What Ticket to Paradise has working in its favor is a strong cast, most moviegoers will likely have bought tickets for Roberts, Clooney, or the combination of the two. While Clooney is a bona-fide movie star whose name would lend power to any project, Roberts in particular is a big get for a film attempting to make rom-coms culturally relevant again. With titles in the rear view mirror like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, and Eat Pray Love Roberts is a bona-fide icon of the genre, so to see her return to Bali (apart from George Clooney, no less) is certainly a box office draw for many.
And to their credit, Roberts and Clooney certainly haven’t lost the charm that made them such well-loved performers in the first place: Clooney’s David has just the right mix of sardonic devil-may-care humor and goofy dad jokes to feel like both a suitable romantic lead and a believable father. Roberts is similarly charismatic as the long-suffering Georgia – a woman who clearly remembers exactly why she and David fell apart and why getting back together would be a terrible idea – but who also can’t quite forget what made her fall for him in the first place.
Together, they make a more than suitable couple, and the concept of a once desperately in love pair of divorcees finding their way back to each other is a refreshing twist on convention – subverting the typical rom-com meet cutes. Though they may have their fair share of standard romantic comedy hijinks and adorably awkward scenarios that set the scene for an eventual reconciliation, there’s also a genuine weight to their history; it’s not at all difficult to believe that both David and Georgia were significantly changed by the crumbling of their marriage.
What’s so disappointing about Ticket to Paradise, then, is how uninterested the film seems in exploring that chemistry that made them so perfect together in the first place. Instead of spending most of the runtime watching David and Georgia rediscover their love, the film devotes most of its runtime to their hair-brained scheme to break up Lily and Gede. It’s not that Gede and Lily aren’t compelling characters, there’s certainly a rom-com worth making about just their whirlwind romance, but David and Georgia are supposed to be the leads of Ticket to Paradise, so having their romance play second fiddle to Lily’s is a bizarre and unfortunate choice.
Beyond taking away from time that would’ve explored David and Georgia’s romance, Ticket to Paradise’s fascination with exploring Lily and Gede also leads to a majority of the film’s flattest comedic moments; because unlike Clooney and Roberts, Dever and Bouttier have neither the chemistry nor the comedic chops to make spending so much time with their characters worthwhile. The Bali-related comedic sequences that ensue because of their engagement are similarly lackluster – and though the presence of Billie Lourd should (in theory) inject some much-needed humor, even her comedic chops aren’t enough to make the humdrum script funny.
Ticket to Paradise’s comedic beats rely far too frequently on low-hanging fruit: David is attacked by a dolphin and bitten in the genitals, David and Georgia get wasted playing beer pong, the type of humor one might expect from a college raunch comedy, not Julia Roberts’ momentous return to rom-coms. Though the lush backdrops of Bali may give the film a flourishing tropical flare, even genre giants like George Clooney and Julia Roberts aren’t enough to save Ticket to Paradise from unfunny rom-com mediocrity.
Ticket to Paradise is now playing only in theaters from Universal Pictures.