When we first saw George Clooney and Julia Roberts on-screen together, the year was 2001.
The film was Ocean’s Eleven, director Steven Soderbergh’s pitch perfect heist caper and gold standard for movie star power. It arrived at a time when we took for granted movies like the duo’s latest pairing, Ticket To Paradise.
Romantic comedies seemed to be an endless supply at the turn of the millennium, and the winning formula of something like Ocean’s Eleven shares a lot of DNA with the inherent value of a good rom-com: movie star charisma. Julia Roberts herself is one of undisputed queens of the genre, chalking up multiple certified classics in her filmography, the likes of Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wedding, etc. As the romantic comedy evaporated from our culture, so has Roberts’ presence in modern moviegoing.
Ticket to Paradise feels like a grand return after a fairly quiet decade for her that included another Clooney collaboration, 2016’s Money Monster. The follow-up to director Ol Parker’s equally delightful 2018 musical romp Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, this film feels like such a welcome throwback and reclamation of something that we rarely get on the big screen these days. Clooney has become known for largely dramatic roles and directing ventures in his older years. Ticket to Paradise is a reminder not only of the talents that made each of these actors so popular in the 90s leading up to their first collaborations, but also the type of film that used to come out all the time during that era.
Watching this movie felt like drinking the clearest, most delicious fresh water in a hot dry desert. We are so deprived of easy watches like this one. It feels like a miracle that this movie has been made in this form, and not by Netflix in Southern California starring some nameless up-and-comers.
Far from a perfect film, Ticket to Paradise is only concerned with giving audiences a good time at the movies. Sure, the plot of divorced parents that hate each other may seem really implausible when they are portrayed by these two silver screen icons, but it’s all part of the fun. It’s then amplified to a surprisingly high hit rate of jokes when you factor in the hijinks of them in cahoots to sabotage their daughter’s wedding, and an on-location shoot in Bali that everyone took as a wonderful opportunity for a pandemic vacation.
The plot beats may be obvious and predictable, but at a certain point all you need is a smile on your face and two-ish hours at the movies to forget the stresses of life. This movie is a white people problems greatest hits. From the fish-out-of-water cultural wedding customs, to the idea of parents wanting to be good role models by stopping their daughter (the increasingly popular Kaitlyn Dever) from making the same mistakes they did (all in a beautiful destination). Also in tow are the stand-out comedic chops of Billie Lourd. There’s the casual suggestion of danger here and there, like a venomous snake, a strong foreign liquor, and a drifting boat, but nothing ever really goes wrong. How could it? It’s all about the corny laughs. Julia Roberts’ hair is always perfectly styled, too. How could it not.
George Clooney is the MVP here, delivering a shockingly heartfelt performance alongside the broad cheesy comedy that landed pretty much every time in my screening. He’s a flawed and regretful divorced man. He longs for the days when he had a family that clicked together and didn’t repel itself. He also gets bitten by a computer-generated dolphin. It’s all very silly, but it doesn’t forget to tell a real story. The movie never falls into the trap of actors on vacation who could care less about the audience at home. That being said, your mileage may vary if you’re not seeing this in the theater with a packed crowd. My admiration for it may be linked to my appreciation for its existence. Also, we absolutely love to see a good credits blooper reel.
Perhaps this is more than just a reminder of Clooney and Roberts as two of our last great movie stars, or of the death of the romantic comedy. Ticket to Paradise is proof that we should still make time to go see light and breezy comedies in the theater. The communal experience is not just for multiversal superhero mythology or Tom Cruise stunt spectacles. Maybe going to the theater is about turning your brain off and watching George Clooney dance to “Jump Around” by House of Pain drunk off his ass. Maybe that’s cinema.
3.5 sunsets out of 5