There’s a lot to like in Ticket To Paradise, a nostalgic rom-com that harkens back to the genre’s ‘90s and ’00s heyday. The film, directed by Ol Parker and written by Parker and Daniel Pipski, stars Julia Roberts and George Clooney as a bitter divorced couple who may still have some spark left. It’s set in an exotic location—Australia stands in for tropical Bali—and it’s populated with comedic, charming secondary characters. The plot is basic, but agreeable: David and Georgia Cotton (Clooney and Roberts) fly to Bali to stop their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) from marrying a man she just met. Hijinks ensue. Tears are shed. Reciliations are made. Etc.
TICKET TO PARADISE ★★ (2/4 stars)
Somewhere along the line, however, all of these elements seem to have become misaligned. There are highly entertaining scenes, like when David and Georgia get drunk and dance to ‘90s hits in a local bar, but the overall story doesn’t quite add up. Lily, who recently graduated from law school, is about to give up her life to get married to a seaweed farmer, a plot point that feels oddly dated. David and Georgia attempt to sabotage the wedding, including stealing a ring from a small child, creating a feeling of malice that offsets the whimsy of a rom-com. Their machinations are supposed to bring them back together, but mostly they are just mean-spirited, both towards each other and towards their own daughter.
Moments of much-needed humor come from Billie Lourd, playing Lily’s BFF Wren, and Lucas Bravo, gamely playing a smitten pilot Georgia is now dating. Clooney, too, fully embraces the off-kilter vibe of the film (if you’ve ever wanted to see George Clooney get attacked by a dolphin this is your movie). Roberts, the face of so many quintessential works of the genre, feels less committed. Still, both stars are exactly that—stars. They are undeniably charismatic and have solid chemistry, especially when their characters are at odds. The setting is as beautiful as the actors, which adds to the escapist sensibility. Parker ensures that Balinese culture is largely portrayed with respect, unlike many prior rom-coms that have parachuted into exotic locales without real concern.
But something is missing here. Despite the undeniable frivolity and the entertaining nature of the film, the spark never fully ignites. There are moments where the script seems to hint at universal truths about love, but the emotion falls ultimately flat. In the end, we don’t really care about these characters enough to be fully invested in their potential reconciliation. And why should we? They aren’t very likable in the first place. The sum of Ticket To Paradise is less than its parts, which is a difficult feat when you have two major A-list stars at the helm. That doesn’t diminish the film’s general likability and possibility of becoming a Sunday afternoon comfort watch. If you’re nostalgic for a great rom-com, though, this isn’t it.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.