One of the great joys of watching a rom-com, unlike any other genre, is reveling in knowing exactly what the ending will be. The predictability is the pleasure. Stakes are low, love is on the horizon, the couple will end up together. Ticket To Paradise isn’t out to reinvent the genre so much as embrace its conventions, sugary confected emotion set against a stunning backdrop that contrives to bring together two charming people. It’s an approach that alternately endears and frustrates, finding only a thimbleful of romantic insight for every cerulean-blue expanse of sea the camera glides over and every cliché the film adopts.
And there are many. Accidentally waking up in an exes’ bed? Check. Lovingly brushing away the hair of someone you might have feelings for? Check. A love interest so underwritten they exist solely to remind you of the comparatively better person you're meant to be with? Check. Even the central premise of the film, in which two estranged parents are brought back together because of their child, calls to mind essential viewing rom-com The Parent Trap (1998). For this film, Julia Roberts and George Clooney channel their megawatt star power into the roles of embittered exes David and Georgia, begrudgingly reunited after their law-graduate daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) decides to put her career on hold and settle down with a dreamy seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier) she met while on vacation in Bali. The two must call a temporary truce while they connive to break up this ill-conceived (somehow, only to them) match.
So electrifying is the actors' chemistry and sense of comic timing, it takes a while to register that neither character has any defining sense of personality outside of their failed marriage and their unifying love for their daughter. Since this is a romantic comedy and the screenplay must pave the path to their eventual reconciliation, their perpetual sniping is permanently set to ‘cute’, restricted to petty grievances and gliding over the more chronic problems they might have had. Few flashes of this film provide any real depth. One scene pinpoints the exact moment playful teasing can slide over into uncomfortable truths between two people who know each other maybe a little too well. A short monologue midway through reveals a perceptive take on how a relationship can fray inch by inch, but Ticket to Paradise lacks any more of these thoughtful touches.
It’s telling that the animosity and decades-long conflict between David and Georgia seems to have had no impact on how their daughter views love and marriage, given how eager she is to marry someone she's known for just two months. It's easier to believe that the crushing pressure of life as a lawyer and of allure of the tropical paradise have more to do with her decision to upturn her life than a man, but the film is content to leave that suitcase unpacked. There's little room for ugliness on an island paradise.
Even less character development is afforded to her Balinese in-laws, warm (but mostly silent) presences, and her fiancé, eventually reduced to the Macguffin that must bring David and Georgia together by the end. With its Caucasian-dominated cast and fixation on sprawling island vistas, the film slots neatly into the Venn diagram between director Ol Parker's Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again (2018), an escapist fantasy about rich White people on holiday in a foreign country, and Roberts' Eat Pray Love (2010), an escapist fantasy about a rich White person on holiday in a foreign country. Glimpses into a new culture and way of life add texture to the film, but are kept to the bare minimum.
Still, it’s refreshing to find a rom-com that's centered on an older couple, one that doesn't make a big deal of their age. This is by design — while David and Georgia briefly flit with the hollow disappointment of what has already happened and the aching potential of what could have been, the film pushes them to focus on the joys of the here and now. It’s a seductive line of thinking, especially when set against the lush Bali coast where all the locals are endlessly kind and welcoming, where work is described as a partnership between man and nature, where life is framed as an aspirational fantasy without the threat of reality ever encroaching. Which is why it’s so easy to succumb to the allure of the film, its feel-good charm. It works, if only in the here and now.