If they handed out a generic award for Best-Looking Movie of 2022, Ticket to Paradise would be on the noms list. As a squabbling, middle-aged couple, George Clooney and Julia Roberts are as photogenic as ever. Their daughter? Beautiful, as you would expect. The locations? You couldn’t CGI something prettier. Hell, even the chittering, man-eating dolphins are handsome as can be. Yes, if my eyes weren’t connected to my brain, Ticket to Paradise might’ve been a movie for the ages.
Unfortunately, I must contrast such a visual feast with all the slop pouring into my ears. I’m not sure what this movie wants to be, but it never amounts to more than a bad sitcom. The banter is more plastic than Donna Reed’s Tupperware, and the farcical shenanigans make Fawlty Towers look downright subtle. I know none of this is supposed to be Joseph L. Mankiewicz material, but c’mon…you’ve got two of the most charming actors in history! By my math, that’s 1/6th of Ocean’s Twelve! Throw ’em a bone, people!
I’ll rant some more later. For now, let’s dissect this dead animal: The story centers on David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts), who divorced many years ago. Their acrimony has settled into a kind of trench warfare, where they lob grenades at each other from afar. The only thing that unites them is love for Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), their post-collegiate daughter. As the film begins, Lily graduates with a law degree, as David and Georgia slap and snark at each other in the balcony.
Her diploma in hand, Lily joins hedonistic BFF Wren (Billie Lourd) on a relaxing trip to Bali. On a snorkeling adventure, the ladies pop up from the water to find their tour boat vanished. Panicked, they paddle for the distant shore. Ermagerd, you guys–do you think they’re gonna drown? Hold on, let me flip through my rom-com manual…..nope! (Although, I would’ve slapped two more stars on this thing if they titled this hooey Ticket to Paradise, and then drowned a major character in the first act.) It’s time for a good ol’ Meet Cute. And Paradise serves up a humdinger.
Does a hunky dude in a boat come along? Of course he does! Gede (Maxime Bouttier) is level-headed, kind, intelligent young man with a steady job and no emotional baggage. He’s what a social scientist might refer to as “a unicorn.” Anyway, he scoops Lilly out of the water, and they make googly eyes at each other while her buddy flails and screams in the background. Ah, young love!
So, they head on back to his gorgeous beachside hacienda, where they proceed to drool over each other for several more scenes. Lily is blown away by his zen outlook on life. She takes a long look around and realizes she’s home, and Gede is her soulmate. In a whirlwind, they’re engaged.
Word travels back to the States, where David and Georgia’s panties quickly twist into knots: Lily is making a life mistake, and she must be stopped. With that, these mortal enemies form a temporary alliance, with the goal of crushing their daughter’s engagement at all costs. They board an airliner, fully content with their nefarious plan.
Paradise bears a striking similarity to My Best Friend’s Wedding, the 90s chestnut headlined by Roberts. In that film, her character fumes that an unrequited crush is about to marry somebody else. As a result, she turns heel and acts like a hateful, spoiled brat. Here, we get double the villainy, as David and Georgia resort to one repugnant deed after another to drive Lily and Gede apart.
Unsurprisingly, both films suffer from the same huge problem: Their protagonists aren’t good people. In Wedding, Roberts is willing to ruin lives, and only comes clean because she got caught. As bad as that sounds, David and Georgia might actually be worse, as their hijinks actively demolish the happiness of their own child. They claim to be doting parents, even though their plan would send Lily home in tears, back to a life she doesn’t want. If they weren’t played by Clooney and Roberts, there’s a good chance we’d be hissing both of them.
Another fly in the ointment: If you’ve seen any rom-coms in your life, you know the screenwriters are going to have David and Georgia bicker and banter their way back into bed. Unfortunately, these miserable boomer burn-outs are also noxious as a couple. When they’re finished murdering Lily’s hopes and dreams, no doubt they’ll go right back to hacking away at each other. As the film begins, Georgia dates a handsome young pilot (Lucas Bravo). Much like Lily, I wanted him to run for the hills, lest he become David and Georgia’s next victim.
On the subject of David and Georgia, I’ve got one more gripe: Much like every Father of the Bride, Ticket to Paradise leans into the First Class Blues. It’s wearying to watch rich people whine about how bad it’s been, and how much worse it’s gonna get. Over the course of this movie, David and Georgia fly first class, stay in lavish hotels, bandy about in yachts, and fret that their only daughter is about to settle down with a good-hearted, good-looking, successful young man in a place that amounts to heaven on Earth. As rough as that sounds, I know some people will gladly trade places. Put another way: Even for a rom-com, this is a low-stakes movie.
As for Clooney and Roberts, well, they get Certificates of Attendance. They give it all the star power they can, which still isn’t enough. David and Georgia are rancid and rotten to the core. I would only root for them to get together if they could crash on Gilligan’s Island and stay there. Dever is a talented actress, and she manages to shine above the material. (Check out Booksmart to see how good she can be.) Every player deserves better than what they get here.
That’s the frustrating thing. This lineup could’ve and should’ve produced something great. Maybe Ticket to Paradise could’ve been a wry comedy about lonely empty-nesters digging in for one last throwdown. Maybe it could’ve been a moving drama about letting go of your only child, with a few sly bits of comedy added. Alas, we get neither. Ticket to Paradise might be an amazing film look at, but it’s pretty terrible to watch.
104 min. PG-13. Peacock.