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In “Ticket to Paradise,” there’s a moment early on where David Cotton (George Clooney) gets introspective about the reasons his marriage to Georgia (Julia Roberts) may have ended. The monologue centers around a house by a lake and the fire that destroyed it – an apt, if slightly obvious, metaphor for the way the couple’s relationship burned to the ground.
The monologue itself is just fine. But the way Clooney delivers it, it might as well be a Shakespearean sonnet. His voice fills with a reluctant warmth, a tender gruffness that softens the caustic persona he’s exuded thus far. The camera slowly pushes in on him as hints of regret start to appear in his eyes and at the corners of his mouth before he realizes how much of himself he’s showing, and shakes off the vulnerability as quickly as it came.
It’s a wonderful reminder that while Clooney is a good actor, he’s an excellent movie star – someone who’s able to take a somewhat trite piece of writing and make us believe it, someone we inherently want to root for. The movie star is exactly what’s been missing from romantic comedies in the streaming age, and seeing stars like Clooney and Roberts together in a mainstream, big budget romantic comedy is a breath of fresh air – a return to form. But “Ticket to Paradise” also inadvertently proves that movie stars are only half the battle – you need a good support system as well.
“Ticket to Paradise” stars Clooney and Roberts as the estranged parents of Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), who has just graduated from college and taken a long vacation to Bali. When the duo learns that Lily has decided to forgo her career as a lawyer and marry a Indonesian seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier), they must put aside their differences and team up to sabotage the wedding. But along the way, they start to rekindle the feelings that once made them happy together so long ago.
On paper, “Ticket to Paradise” is an ideal Friday night at the movies: movie stars with great chemistry, a gorgeous location, silly hijinks, and incredible fits – thank you, Julia Roberts, for all of my future jumpsuit inspo. I had a great time watching this movie. But, throughout its run time, I did find myself feeling like something was missing. Clooney and Roberts are exquisite, but the story and characters around them are too half-baked to make an impression – and no amount of dreamy Clooney monologues can solve that problem.
Hand-wringing over the status of the modern romantic comedy is nothing new. We’ve gotten a few standouts recently, like 2018’s “Set It Up” or 2019’s “Plus One.” Just this year, “Ticket to Paradise” joins another throwback, movie star offering in “The Lost City,” starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum. But movie goers – or at least, this movie goer – long for the modern rom-com heyday of the 1990s and 2000s, when seeing a star of Bullock or Roberts caliber in a romantic comedy was not an exception, but the norm.
It’s not that those movies were perfect – well, “When Harry Met Sally…” might be, but that’s a different conversation. Looking back, a lot of them are shaggy around the edges, or have plot points that don’t make a whole lot of sense, or characters that exist only to fill certain tropes. But they do have a few very important things. They have one or two big moments – a “just a girl, standing in front of a boy” monologue, or a clandestine meeting on top of the Empire State Building – that are so effortlessly magical, you forget about the parts that didn’t quite work. They have stock side characters, sure – the best friend, or the rival love interest – but they’re memorable, played by the Rosie O’Donnells or the Bill Pullmans of the world. And of course, they have the movie star pairing.
“Ticket to Paradise” has the movie stars, and when the aforementioned Clooney monologue happens, you start to think it’ll give you a couple of those magical moments too. But, particularly in the film’s third act, those sentimental monologues and teary speeches begin to pile up to a shocking degree. It becomes clear that the film’s writers are leaning on those moments, hoping Roberts and Clooney’s charisma will be enough to hide what the film lacks.
It only works roughly half the time. Because the trouble is, outside of Clooney and Roberts, no one else has much to do. So when those two are off screen – or the fifth time one of them delivers a weighty monologue – the lackluster writing becomes more apparent. That’s not for a lack of talent. Dever, Bouttier, Billie Lourd, and Lucas Bravo all have the chops to be great supporting characters in this story, but the script never really gives them a chance to shine. Bouttier and Bravo get the closest. As Gede, Lily’s fiancé, Bouttier delivers an empathetic and perceptive performance, and as Roberts’ younger boyfriend Paul, Bravo is the only supporting character who really gets a chance to be properly funny.
The women, however, get the short end of the stick. Dever is one of the most talented young actors of her generation, but she’s more often relegated to being on the receiving end of an emotional moment rather than delivering one of her own. More maligned is Lourd, who showed off her comedic chops in 2019’s “Booksmart.” She should be the perfect pick for the quirky best friend role, but her scenes are so far and few between, she’s never given the space to cook.
Let’s be clear – I’m never going to turn down a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney. But if we’re going to work on solving the movie star problem, we’ve got to work on solving the other stuff too.
Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers. More by Sammie Purcell