George Clooney’s and Julia Roberts’s undimmed charisma brings enough grace notes to Ticket to Paradise that you could easily be taken in by its low-stakes frivolity.
Starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts as an ever-bickering divorced couple, Ticket to Paradise is the most notable on-screen pairing of the two box office titans since 2004’s Ocean’s 12, which featured a memorable plot point centered around Roberts’s character having an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood actress Julia Roberts. That kind of tongue-in-cheek postmodern playfulness is nowhere to be found here, but Ticket to Paradise is equally enamored of its own dazzling star power. In fact, the flaunting of A-list heavyweights seems to be the only reason for this aggressively lightweight film to exist in the first place.
David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) are visiting Bali for the wedding of their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), who’s recently completed law school. The groom to be is Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a local seaweed farmer who Lily met just a few months prior, on her post-graduation getaway to the island. Her parents reluctantly join forces in order to sabotage this whirlwind romance, hopefully preventing their daughter from giving up on law for good and making the same mistakes that they did 25 years ago, as young lovers rushing into an ill-fated marriage.
With its predictable plotting, exoticism of its setting, and generally mediocre supporting players (with the exception of Wren Butler as Lily’s wisecracking best friend), Ticket to Paradise manages to cast its leads in a particularly favorable light, as if it’s daring us to imagine how bad it would be without them. And there’s occasionally a strange, almost surreal thrill in seeing these talented performers coasting by in such a flimsy creation, working with material that’s so far beneath them that the film often resembles a highly advanced DeepFake video.
Ticket to Paradise does show some early promise, as a spritely opening sequence uses fast cuts and the occasional split-screen to introduce us to David and Georgia, enjoying their separate luxury lifestyles and recounting their wildly divergent perspectives on the breakdown of their marriage. They’re reunited for Lily’s graduation ceremony, and their mean-spirited squabbling initially elicits some laughs, though this doesn’t really last beyond their first few scenes together.
The fleeting moments when the two leads are called upon to flex their dramatic chops are effective, though their characters’ expressions of melancholy and regret about their failed relationship only end up telegraphing the story’s development all the more clearly. As the film goes along, it becomes increasingly obvious that it’s not the younger couple who will be learning some important life lessons in idyllic Bali. But ultimately it’s hard to really care one way or another what happens to anyone, as the characters find themselves in creaky, artificial scenarios and escapades that feel as clichéd as the film’s underlying “carpe diem” message.
Rather than the classic screwball comedy, a more accurate reference point for Ticket to Paradise would probably be the frothy, aspirational rom-coms of the ’90s and early aughts, like Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually. A fun blooper reel over the closing credits suggests a self-conscious attempt to identify with this era, and a fondness for the old-fashioned communal cinema experience that the streaming boom has gradually eroded.
In this light, the otherwise distasteful sight of two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars slumming it becomes imbued with an almost spiritual significance, as each offers up their hard-earned credibility and good taste in an effort to resurrect what’s left of the magic of the movies. It’s a sacrifice that’s tempting to accept, and Clooney’s and Roberts’s undimmed charisma brings enough grace notes to Ticket to Paradise that you could easily be taken in by its low-stakes frivolity. Or you could always just check out Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 12 instead.