' ' Cinema Romantico: Ticket to Paradise

Monday, October 31, 2022

Ticket to Paradise

A movie ending with outtakes is generally a red flag. It is a tactic often deployed in comedies that weren’t funny to begin with, and are trying here, now, after the end to send you home in a good enough mood to not tell your friends who ask how the movie was to stay home. In the case of “Ticket to Paradise,” on the other hand, while its post-concluding outtakes do, indeed, innately cop to the lack of preceding humor and spark, they are even more unintentionally revealing, putting a finishing dot on how director Ol Parker’s movie in question relies almost exclusively on the star power of Julia Roberts and George Clooney to carry it. True, this reviewer has spent years clamoring for a romantic comedy fueled by the star power of Jules & George. But fuel requires an engine, a surrounding framework, and that is where Parker and his co-writer Daniel Pipski fail, creating a feature film that feels more like an outline; [Rest of Movie Goes Here].

“Ticket to Paradise” opens by cross-cutting between Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney) Cotton, ex-wife and husband, explaining to us the audience as much as the otherwise irrelevant supporting characters resentments of their marital estrangement. We see them at work, her in an art gallery and him on tall buildings in a hard hat, but this is all mere filler, as unimaginative as the opening shot of a city skyline. Their occupations hardly matter, either for the plot or Georgia and David themselves, evocative of an overriding lack of crucial dimension. The story turns on their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) who has just graduated college with a law firm job waiting, flying with her friend and fellow graduate Wren (Billie Lourd) to Bali for the summer. There she meets a seaweed farmer named Gede (Maxime Bouttier) and they decide to get hitched. Fearful that Lily will make the same mistake they did so many years ago in marrying too quickly at too young an age, Georgia and David hurry to Bali to put the kibosh on these impending nuptials.  

We do not see Lily and Gede’s whirlwind romance, just its inception when he rescues her and Wren after a tourist boat inadvertently leaves them alone in the water far from shore, a scene so zanily earnest it inadvertently becomes self-parody and, worse, informs the straight faces with which Dever and Bouttier play their parts. Immediately accepting Lily and Gede’s romance at face value betrays the inherent lack of complications in their emergent relationship. There is a moment, in fact, near the end, when Gede makes a significant declaration absent having advised Lily of this declaration beforehand. When she calls him on it, for a split-second, I swear, in Dever’s air you can sense real agitation. But it’s brushed away by being laughed off, evocative of a rom com with a bizarre fear of confrontation in a genre that demands impediments. It’s also a genre that demands a good sidekick and the way Lily and Gede’s Meet Cut ends, with Wren essentially having been forgotten in the water by the lovelorn, is less humorous than illustrative of how the movie the assigns her a single trait (drunk) and then forgets about her just as it forgets about other supporting characters, including Gede’s family. I’m not sure if Miller was afraid of audiences taking offense at jokes about another culture, but if movies in this vein tend to spotlight differences in social strata for both comedy and drama, “Ticket to Paradise” mostly looks the other way.

Georgia and David’s crude plan to stop the wedding involves stealing Lily and Gede’s rings so the ceremony cannot proceed. An inherently absurd plot point, Miller turns it into a weirdly serious, non-violent version of Chekhov’s Gun waiting to go off, failing to exploit the considerable comic potential. What should become a version of the Father of the Bride being attacked by dogs and falling in the pool of his in-laws’ home when he goes snooping around is instead rendered passively. This is true of all the movie’s myriad screwball elements, from David getting attacked by a dolphin to David and Gede, ostensibly at odds, literally hunting for a pig to eat after they and Georgia and Lily get stuck on an island. The moment in which we realize they are stranded speaks to the whole movie, the boat David has failed to properly tie up to the shore floating away seen from up and above and far away, the would-be punchline delivered not with a hysterical thwack but a leaden piffle. 

It’s clear that in straining to stop their daughter from marrying impetuously, David and Georgia are merely trying to emotionally correct the wrong of their own impetuous marriage. This is clear not least because Lily literally explicates it in a late movie monologue that might have been as wink-wink as the meet cute but instead works best to highlight how “Ticket to Paradise” fails to bake that diagnosis into the plot and thereby forcing itself to just stop and say it. That failure is born of the thinly conceived backstory of its principals, their falling out ultimately uninteresting and undramatic, hardly the genesis of such supposed cutthroat antagonism. That is unfortunately furthered in the sniping of David and Georgia and the way Clooney and Roberts play it, more like a bickering couple that is still married and has been for a long time than two people who have not seen each other in a long time and harbor deep anger and resentment. Indeed, Clooney and Roberts never evince any kind of true romantic tension or sexual energy like they did in the “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Twelve,” betraying a movie so scrubbed and sanitized that even as it unfolds on the screen in front of you seems to disintegrate into nothing. 

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