There’s a popular fallacy that critics don’t enjoy or praise lighter fare; that they save their adoration for artier, weightier, or intellectual projects that quote-unquote “further the medium.” But film criticism is not about judging a picture by how it furthers or improves the art form. It is about observing and elevating films that perfect the form. That is to say, a film critic is just as likely to acknowledge a film that takes everything about a genre and, while never reinventing the wheel, executes all its parts so perfectly and so effortlessly, it takes your breath away. I say all this because Ticket to Paradise, the newest film from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’s Ol Parker and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, is exactly that: a series of tried-and-true tropes executed to perfection across the board.
Years ago, David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) were married after a whirlwind relationship – only to bitterly divorce five years later. Nowadays, they so deeply loathe each other that they can barely be in the same room as each other. However, things change when their beloved daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) announces plans to give up her legal future to marry Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a man she met just days before while vacationing in Bali. Flying halfway across the world for the wedding, David and Georgia realize that they’ll have to work together to keep their daughter from throwing her life away and making the same mistake they’d made decades before.
While so many filmmakers have tried their hardest to become the next Kubrick, the next John Carpenter, or the next Hitchcock, Ol Parker has pulled off a simpler, yet altogether more impressive feat. He has positioned himself as the next Gary Marshall; a director who never makes himself the center of attention, instead just delivering brightly colored, perfectly acted comedies that the entire family can enjoy. While Marshall quickly became the butt of the joke, and his latter films were admittedly disappointing, one must remember that his laissez-faire style resulted in some of the greatest romantic comedies of all time.
Parker is combining several tried-and-true romantic comedy formulas into one easy, poppy confection, ready to be gobbled up by eager audiences starved of this genre for far too long. When was the last time we had a great travel-based romantic comedy, where the beauty of far-off places is as big a character as the actors themselves? I mean, sure, Adam Sandler’s dipped his toe in the water, but even his best films of the sort (see: Just Go With It) are more pedestrian in nature, focused more on forced scenarios than the emotional reality (and comedy) of the characters. And when coupled with the classic “enemies to lovers” trope – a subgenre that’s enticed audiences since the days of Shakespeare – you’re cooking with fire.
Parker and Daniel Pipski’s screenplay takes a series of ideas that are chuckle-worthy on paper, if nothing else, and then amplifies them through proper execution and the sheer charisma of the cast. The result is the same as a basketball coach running his team through a series of layup drills: it may not be flashy, but fundamentals are how you win the game. Therefore, whether we’re watching a sequence of old people getting drunk and dancing, a romantic sunset kiss, or George Clooney getting bitten by a dolphin, we as an audience are willing to go with it, because Parker sets it up in a way that Clooney and Roberts can knock it down.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Paradise’s biggest asset, and the reason anyone would consider seeing this movie: Clooney and Roberts. What chemistry these two possess. This is an example of two of the greatest, most recognizable movie stars on Earth, doing what they do best: be goofy in a fun rom-com. The duo has such fun tormenting each other, and we are willing to buy into their romance, because even as much as they hate each other, their real-life friendship always shines through.
In fact, that star power and real-life knowledge are of greater use than the filmmakers may realize. Not unlike the stars of the 1950s studio system, this is a work perfectly built around its leads’ personas. The film is so in-the-know about their personalities, some of the jokes are built around them – when mentioning Georgia’s new boyfriend, the much younger Paul (played amusingly by Emily In Paris’ Lucas Bravo), Clooney’s David scoffs and declares, “At least when I date, they’re age-appropriate,” a reference to his real-life relationships with younger actresses and models. This is a joke that works, based on real-world knowledge and in-universe execution.
Clooney and Roberts are amplified by a game supporting cast; few of whom are names, none of whom have the recognition the leads do, and yet are no less impressive. Kaitlyn Dever never gets a chance to shine the way she did in, say, Booksmart, or a million other projects she’s dominated in recent years, but as the straight-man daughter to two bickering neurotic parents, she does a serviceable job. Ditto Maxime Bouttier as Gede, a character who never gets to grow, but is charming thanks to the young performer’s charisma.
Yet if anyone comes close to challenging the stars at the top, it would be Bravo as Georgia’s hapless pilot boyfriend and Billie Lourd as Lily’s wild child best friend. Bravo utilizes the sweetness that made him a standout on Emily In Paris, yet he proves here that his charms work much better as a lovably clueless foil, as opposed to a full-fledged leading man. He has a way of delivering lines whilst doting on Roberts that earns a laugh every single time he’s onscreen. Meanwhile, Lourd isn’t doing anything here she hadn’t previously done in Booksmart. But because she was effortlessly the best part of Booksmart, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lourd is a pitch-perfect rom-com best friend, delivers her lines perfectly, and has a wry, knowing smile that elevates every single moment. Someone give this woman the star vehicle she deserves.
Ticket to Paradise doesn’t alter, change, or challenge the standard rom-com model. I jotted down in my notebook a series of predictions for the rest of the movie before the opening title card even appeared, and I was about 80% right. But it does prove that if you put in the work, and deliver the goods, then originality matters a great deal less than the execution. Ticket to Paradise is not an original film. But thanks to the enjoyability of the jokes, the steady hand of the director, and the effortlessness of the cast, it is an incredibly enjoyable one.
Ticket to Paradise is now playing in theaters nationwide