“Ticket to Paradise” gets everything right about paradise, including the backdrop of an upcoming wedding and a beach view of Bali. But paradise is all this film seems to know, as forgettable side plots and nonexistent conflict resolution muddle its potential.
Written by director Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”) and screenwriter Daniel Pipski, “Ticket to Paradise” tells the story of Georgia (Julia Roberts, “Ben is Back”) and David Cotton (George Clooney, “The Midnight Sky”), who have been divorced for 14 years. After their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever, “Rosaline”), a prospective lawyer with potential, announces she is engaged to a man named Gede (Maxime Bouttier, “Kain Kafan Hitam”), whom she met on vacation in Bali just 40 days prior, Georgia and David agree to set aside their differences. They work together to foil the marriage, convinced Lily is making the biggest mistake of her life.
During a post-screening conversation at the Michigan Theater on Oct. 20, Pipski, a University of Michigan alum, said he wrote the original screenplay with Roberts and Clooney in mind. Although Georgia and David don’t realize it themselves, the fact that they are always able to throw an insult back at each other right where it hurts is indicative of how well the two know each other. Clooney and Roberts’s decades-long friendship shines through in their much-needed banter, shifting Georgia and David’s dynamic from a bitterly divorced couple to one more closely resembling old lovers rediscovering the chemistry that never truly left.
The chemistry, however, is not enough to make up for the fact that this movie is unsure of what story it wants to tell. Namely, there’s the story of Gede and Lily, which the writers try to develop alongside that of Georgia and David. Gede and Lily’s dream wedding competes for attention with Georgia and David’s love rekindling — two contrasting relationship arcs that would be better developed separately.
The story of Lily and Gede’s meeting takes up about 10 minutes of uninterrupted screen time. This effectively introduces the pressure Lily feels from her parents to become a successful lawyer. After falling in love with Gede and Bali, this pressure is only exacerbated.
Too little of the movie is from Lily’s point of view for us to really understand her character. Additionally, Georgia and David may be the most important characters, but because Lily isn’t fleshed out, the scenes between her and Gede detract from Georgia and David’s screen time rather than creating a compelling B-story. Lily’s relationship with her parents is more central to the plot than her relationship with Gede, but the script doesn’t reflect this. Lily’s lack of screen time leaves viewers feeling uninvested in what little interactions she does have with her parents.
Even within David and Georgia’s relationship, there is an inadequate amount of time spent on resolving their past marital conflicts to make way for a new relationship. While David and Georgia reflect individually on their regrets, the two have a single conversation about their past before kissing. The idea that they should let go of pretense and let themselves feel is understandable — given how much time has elapsed, they have had a lot of time to think about reconnecting. But considering the traumatic circumstances of their divorce, it isn’t believable that they can essentially ignore their relationship history and move on without thoroughly addressing the situation.
The other main conflict — Georgia and David’s attempt to ruin their daughter’s marriage — is treated with nonchalance for what seems to be a serious betrayal. The quirky resolution and their constant attempts to one-up each other in terms of who has more love for Lily heighten the sense of her objectification. They treat their daughter more like a prize to be won than a human being. On top of that, they project their insecurities about their own failed marriage onto Lily, trying to create a rift between Gede and Lily in unjustifiable ways. In one instance, they stoop so low as to steal the rings from Gede’s young cousin, postponing the wedding and creating panic for everyone. Somehow, Lily forgives them with little protest.
This lighthearted take on a serious topic only makes the characters shallower. The film is a comedy, but the character backstories are written to seem too emotional for what feels like a low-stakes story. The film could have had a lot more depth if it had chosen to explore the dysfunctional family dynamic at play. While a happy ending is expected, the entire story falls flat because the focus on romance overshadows more interesting potential plot points.
“Ticket to Paradise” is a ticket to a viewing experience about paradise, but hardly a paradisiacal viewing experience. When attempts at fleshing out characters’ backstories are half-hearted at best, and the plot only explores what is familiar to the romance genre, the film can only be a lazy attempt at recreating 2000s romcom glory.
Daily Arts Writer Kristen Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.