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Ticket to Paradise

Director: Ol Parker (USA). Year of Release: 2022

Ticket to Paradise starts with a “Summer Nights” type dual scene of a couple each explaining to a friend about how they met. He (David, George Clooney) is an architect, bobbing about a construction site wearing a hard hat. She (Georgia, Julia Roberts) is something in the Art world, buying a painting in an auction for an exorbitant amount of money. His explanation portrays his role as being much more noble, but you get the impression that hers may be nearer to the truth.

It’s now 25 years after they married, and 20 years after their acrimonious divorce. Their daughter Lily is just graduating law school and is about to jet off to Bali with her friend Wren, before starting a big legal job. Both parents attend her graduation, where they have been placed in adjacent seats, presumably by someone with a sense of humour. They bicker throughout the ceremony and fight over the arm rest before standing up and smugly cheering when Lily is awarded her degree.

In Bali, Lily and Wren go swimming and the boat which took them out leaves without them. Stranded, they are picked up by a passing fisherman / seaweed farmer Gede. It’s not long before Lily and Gede are engaged, and David and Georgia are flying halfway across the world to prevent their daughter making the same mistake they did 25 years ago. They agree on a ceasefire and a trojan horse strategy – telling Lily they support her while sabotaging her wedding from the inside.

There’ll be no spoilers here because there’s absolutely no need. Nothing happens in the film which isn’t perfectly obvious from the first couple of minutes. I must admit that I was surprized once – when we don’t even see the possibility of David sleeping with Wren. But thinking about it, the film is too wholesome to ever mention extra-marital sex. For all it pretends to be edgy and dangerous by including a squabbling couple, it never remotely strays out of safe romcom territory.

Ticket to Paradise presumably has aspirations to be a 1950s-style screwball comedy, of the type that used to star Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Yet while Clooney and Roberts are both fine actors, look pretty and each has a nice smile, you can only do as much as your script allows. And this script doesn’t allow very much at all. There’s a joke about men not wearing yoga pants and, no, sorry, I can’t remember any other attempted joke. Certainly nothing that was actually funny.

Bali and its people are largely there to provide pretty background decoration. Most of the natives are not allowed a voice, and when they do, it’s when they’re talking about superstitions which might ruin the wedding. Because of course all Balinese people think that if a couple visits that temple before they are married, then the marriage is doomed. Such patronising Orientalism appears to be inclusive but ends up infantilising the people it’s trying to celebrate.

This is clearly a film about rich, white, people. When Lily moves in with Gede’s family (obviously not with him, because, remember, sex only takes place between married couples, and even then only way off screen), Wren gets a room in the local luxury hotel. She says it’s only a broom cupboard, but this is the sort of hotel where even a night in a broom cupboard would cost a month’s wages of an average US-American worker, let along a Balinese seaweed farmer.

Similarly, David and Georgia are given a back story to explain how their marriage fell apart. They were young, and discovered a lakeside house where they wanted to spend the rest of their life together. But it was too expensive, and they had to save up. David finally bought the house, but just as they were just about to move in, there was a fire and the house burned down. Their marriage fell apart slightly afterwards.

Leaving aside the obvious questions about insurance and how fragile a relationship is that depends on owning a posh house, it is clear that we are in the company of people who can afford to buy and rent expensive property when they’re young. Wren hasn’t even told her parents that she’s gone to Bali, and yet has no problems with hotel fees. The film tries to give us the impression that these are self made people who were once just like us, while showing us something else entirely.

But the main problem is not that Ticket to Paradise is implausible (although it is), or even that it’s about the trivial problems of pampered poshoes. These are nothing compared to the absolute lack of dramatic tension. We know what’s going to happen, but there aren’t even obstacles put in our way. David is conveniently single, despite being, well, George Clooney. Georgia has a bimbo pilot boyfriend, but he is so mind-numbingly dull that we know he won’t last till the end of the film.

It is all a bit of a shame. I enjoy watching George Clooney act, and have no strong opinions either way about Julia Roberts. The landscapes are indeed stunningly gorgeous, although there is at least one sunset scene which seems to have been filmed to take all the beauty out of the scene. But it’s not a good thing when you’re shouting at the characters on screen because they’re getting in the way of the only part of the film that’s worth watching. You can give this one a miss.

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