Movie stars — remember them? Ticket to Paradise sure does, and it’s banking on the fact that you, the audience member, would actually be willing to leave the comfort of your couch and 7,200 streaming services to go see two of ’em! Together! In a romantic comedy! On a big screen, just like in the old days! By pairing George Clooney and Julia Roberts and casting them as a long-divorced couple who hate each other but must work together to sabotage their daughter’s wedding, the film requires you to answer the burning question: Wait, so what year is it again, exactly?
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, this would be both a huge deal (studio release calendars would be scheduled around this) and no big whoop, given that you could see these two names on marquees like clockwork once or twice a year, and rom-coms were still a staple of a well-balanced filmgoing diet. Now, well… [press play]. To say the landscape has been terraformed since Clooney and Roberts ruled the red carpets would be laughable in how it understates what’s happened to multiplex culture and the current supply-and-demand economics of the business they call “show.” We have forgotten the power that movie stars had when they weren’t solely blowing up cities or donning capes. Luckily for us, these two particular embodiments of a bygone era are here to remind us of what’s been absent from screens lately, even if it is in a project that is creakier than a symphony of rocking chairs. We have not missed mediocre movies. But many of us have missed what these wonder twins can do when they share a screen.
To wit: David (Clooney) is an architect. Georgia (Roberts) runs a gallery. Once upon a time, they were in love, and then they weren’t, and now they can’t stand to be in the same hemisphere as each other, much less the same room. The only thing they still agree on is that their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), is an angel and, now that she’s graduated law school, deserves a trip to Bali with her best friend (Billie Lourd). Then, out of the blue, David and Georgia receive an invite to their beloved little girl’s upcoming wedding to a seaweed farmer named Gede (Maxime Bouttier) she met while on vacation. Suffice to say, neither parent is happy. They both jump on the first flight they can — which happens to the same one, seated next to each other, because of course — and, once they land, vow to disrupt the nuptials by any means necessary for Lily’s own good.
If you were alive and going to the movies in the 1990s, you can guess what happens next: stolen rings, dirty tricks, machine-gun bickering, some of the most photogenic smiling ever witnessed by man or beast, beer pong competitions, AARP-age sex symbols dancing to “Jump Around” in nightclubs. There’s more, but to be honest, not really: Georgia has a hot, younger French boyfriend (Lucas Bravo) who, in a perfect world, would simply be named Ralph LeBellamy. Lourd, an appealing comedian/second banana, gets to crack wise and drink gallons of booze, but not in that order. The “paradise” aspect of the title is no joke, with Bali getting the full tropical-Eden treatment, while the people who populate it are treated like just one more part of the tourist-friendly exotica on display. (Even Bouttier’s significant supporting character feels a little too back-to-the-land–dreamboat reductive for his own good.) It will surprise no one that cowriter-director Ol Parker was also the person behind Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, or that this would end what may be the most ludicrous freeze-frame shot ever.
It’s big-budget nostalgia, not just for the days when Pretty Woman and Out of Sight and Intolerable Cruelty were things you’d pay for a ticket to see (an alt-title for this could be: My Best Fiend’s Wedding), but for the era when what Stanley Cavell dubbed the “comedy of remarriage” would let Cary Grant and Irene Dunne circle and charm each other for 90 minutes before inevitably coming back together. And while no one could accuse Ticket to Paradise of being a “great” movie, or even a “very good” one, there’s something about watching Clooney and Roberts butt up against each other in front of a screen-saver background that scratches a long-dormant itch.
When the film just lets the two of them have at each other, or play bedroom-farce after tying one on, or reminisce about where it all went wrong, you can feel the hair on your arms stand on end. Right, this is why they’re stars, you think. The amount of chemistry and charisma they generate in tandem is off the charts. If Ticket to Paradise had been released in 1998, it would just be another A-list mediocrity you’d watch during a long flight. Hitting theaters now, this cinematic time machine is both a mediocrity and, oddly enough, a breath of fresh air. There needs to be room enough for stuff like this to keep being made. Movie stars — they don’t roam the Earth like they used to. But they’re not extinct yet.