At The Movies: Ticket To Paradise needs more paradise, less goofiness

Ticket To Paradise stars (from left) George Clooney and Julia Roberts. PHOTO: UIP
Ticket To Paradise stars (foreground from left) Kaitlyn Dever and Maxime Bouttier. PHOTO: UIP

Ticket To Paradise (PG13)

104 minutes, opens on Thursday
3 stars

The story: David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts), formerly married to each other but now bitterly opposed, have a problem. The Americans are in Bali to celebrate the marriage of their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) to local seaweed farmer Gede (Maxime Bouttier), but are secretly aghast by the thought of their child making the mistake they made by marrying too young. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the island, they hatch a plot to break up the couple and bring Lily back to the United States, where a promising career in law awaits her.

This movie is the sort they do not make any more: A romantic comedy centred on adults, for an adult audience. It is also a subset of the genre – it is an escapist fantasy focusing on feel-good emotions, family ties and gentle jokes, set in a lush and, yes, paradisiacal landscape.

As the writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and its sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) and the writer-director of jukebox musical Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), British film-maker Ol Parker proved he could stick a group of characters in a handsome holiday location – Jaipur, India in the case of Hotel and the Greek island of Kalokairi in Mamma Mia! – and have them heal old hurts and find new love.

The difference here, and this is where the problem lies, is that this project is anchored by the star power of Clooney and Roberts, and the tone that they bring.

Hotel was a British-led, ensemble-driven work featuring actors the likes of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy giving their low-key best, while Mamma Mia! was a musical fuelled by the power pop of Swedish supergroup Abba; its fairy-tale tone is built into its premise.

Roberts’ ability to deliver nuance makes her feel at home in a light-as-a-feather story about young love overshadowed by an older, cursed relationship, but Clooney’s unbridled goofiness shatters the delicate mood.

It is apparent that he has been cast as the comic relief, the butt of the jokes, but a measure of dialling back would have helped Ticket To Paradise be less about a shouty American boomer dad clashing with the locals in Asia, and more about what it means to embrace the magic of an enchanted isle.

Hot take: Book your tickets for this destination love story – if you do not mind Clooney’s focus-pulling high-jinks.

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