“Ticket to Paradise” Movie Review
At what age does an actor become too old for leading roles in Hollywood? For women, the accepted standard has long been 40. Men generally get another ten years or so. There are exceptions to the rules. Actors whose stars burn bright for a long time have a shot at remaining in demand. Think not only of the obvious (Meryl Streep), but actors who hang on to their fame for three decades, a class that includes the likes of Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Matthew McConaughey, and Denzel Washington. What enduring A-list movie stars do with the opportunities they are given varies. You don't want to continue playing to type until audiences tire of it. But your success is based on the brand you've built and you can't expect to have your fans follow you on every whim.
At 61 and 54, respectively, these are topics that must be on the minds of George Clooney and Julia Roberts. They are each now in their fourth decade of movie stardom, with Roberts having broken out in 1990's Pretty Woman and Clooney having transitioned from must-see TV "ER" to feature films smoothly in the mid-'90s. Roberts has been a bit scarce in recent years, having last carried a wide release on her own back in 2010 (Eat Pray Love). Clooney's had a few slow years, but his star status has not been in question in a quarter-century.
The two actors have crossed paths before: Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Money Monster. On Ticket to Paradise, their fifth collaboration, the two are truly co-leads in a time-tested genre that has fallen out of favor lately: the romantic comedy.
Like most adult fare, romcoms have struggled at the box office lately. They can stand out with the right hook, like Crazy Rich Asians having an all-Asian cast and a bestselling source. But from Jennifer Lopez returning to her 2000s bread and butter on Marry Me or Nicholas Stoller and Billy Eichner trying to get the public to buy in on a mainstream gay movie, most recent romcoms have failed to justify the costs of theatrical release. Modern moviegoers increasingly appear to be of the mindset that the big screen is for spectacle and fantasy, while movies that rely on story and characters instead might just be fine to rent or stream on the small screen.
Ticket to Paradise challenges that view. This is a full-fledged traditional romantic comedy sold on the appeal of the stars and of the scenic views of its principal setting, Bali. It's a throwback whose very existence serves as a grand test to see if there is a market for throwbacks.
David (Clooney) and Georgia Cotton (Julia Roberts) were happily married for five years and they've been acrimoniously divorced for the twenty since. But as co-parents to Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), they've had to run into each other on occasion. One such occasion comes early on, when Lily graduates from college and the exes are seated next to each other at the commencement ceremony. The ambitious Lily is to start law school soon, but first she is taking a vacation in Bali with her roommate and wild best friend Wren (Billie Lourd, daughter of Carrie Fisher).
The trip gets extended and soon evolves into another life milestone, when Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a seawood farmer who rescues the girls at sea when they're separated from their group, proposes to Lily. Both shocked and concerned at their usually level-headed daughter's haste, David and Georgia spontaneously fly to Bali to try to talk some sense into her.
While this isn't Julia Roberts' first time trying to break up a wedding, neither her character nor Clooney's is experienced in such matters. But the two set aside their own differences to work together, setting up a series of comic chaos and calculations.
Ticket to Paradise reveals much of its plot in its trailer, but that's not a great concern. Romantic comedy is not a genre known or appreciated for its subversion and misdirects. This one upholds tradition and does little to shroud its innate predictability. It doesn't have to, either, because Clooney and Roberts are having fun. Against the odds, we are too, because although safe and familiar, their shenanigans are amusing. There is dancing to "Jump Around" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" while engaging in a game of Beer Pong involving local moonshine. There is grinning and bearing the discomfort of being thrown into a big family gathering in a distant location with complete strangers. And there's the gentle plotting that is essentially to the plot. Georgia has a young boyfriend (Lucas Bravo), a suave and smitten European pilot, which stands as an obstacle to the obvious reunion you foresee from a single-sentence synopsis. And that complication does inject a modicum of uncertainty to the proceedings.
With lesser actors in the foregrgound, Ticket could easily have fallen flat. This is safe, light broad appeal comedy in the tradition of movies like Roberts' My Best Friend Wedding and much of the filmographies of Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun to catch up with these longtime movie stars, looking better than the majority of quinquagenarians and sexagenarians out there. With their chemistry is on point and their comic timing unfaltering, the diagonally billed still A-listers pull off material that would be utterly cringeworthy in the hands of the lesser talents you'd see cast on Hallmark or Lifetime.
Probably the closest we have today to Tracy and Hepburn (though they look more like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn), Clooney and Roberts have aged better than classic movie stars and their protagonists are not merely a vessel for upper middle age jokes. In light of that and the beautiful supervibrant scenery (Australia perplexingly stands in for Bali), it is hard to fault the movie for not shattering convention or keeping viewers on their toes. The poster may shout "Netflix", but this is a movie you won't be able to stream for at least a couple of months. If you're as fond of romcom traditions as this production is, then paying to see this on the big screen serves as some kind of genre conservation donation.