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Roberts-Clooney team heats up ‘Ticket to Paradise’

Dan Webster

Above: George Clooney and Julie Roberts star in "Ticket to Paradise." (Photo/Universal Pictures)

Movie review: "Ticket to Paradise," directed by Ol Parker, starring Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourde, Maxime Bouttier. Playing in theaters.

It’s not that easy to give new energy to a classic movie genre. But in the romantic comedy "Ticket to Paradise" – known more these days by its abbreviated form, the rom-com – writer-director Ol Parker sure does give it a try.

Working from an original, more or less, screenplay by Daniel Pipski, Parker tells two stories at once. One is of two divorcees, David and Georgia – played, respectively, by George Clooney and Julia Roberts – who have been reunited, so to speak, when forced to sit next to each other at their daughter’s graduation from law school.

Divorced two decades before, the couple aren’t on the best of terms – which is an understatement. They squabble, in classic rom-com style, like two minks locked up together in a jeweled cage. Why minks? Well, they ARE George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

The other story involves the daughter, Lily (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who hates that her parents don’t get along but keeps unwittingly throwing them together. Or does she do so intentionally? This is, after all, most every child of divorce’s greatest hope, that mom and dad will once again fall in … well, if not love then at least a peaceful and mutual acceptance.

To celebrate her graduation, and before heading into the rigors of the legal profession like dad, Lily and her BFF Wren (played by Billie Lourd) head for a vacation in Bali. It is there that, as in all rom-coms, that the meet-cute scene occurs: Left stranded during a snorkeling outing, Lily and Wren are rescued by a hunky seaweed – yes, seaweed – farmer named Gede (played by newcomer Maxime Bouttier).

Sparks inevitably fly and five minutes later – or maybe a bit longer – Lily is announcing to David and Georgia that she is not returning to the U.S. and to lawyering but instead is getting, yes, married.

Intent on stopping what they did – getting married in a fever – which both consider to be the biggest mistake of their lives, the former couple decide to stand united, fly to Bali and do their best to disrupt things. But because they don’t want to alienate Lily – who would likely rebel and proceed just to spite them – they plan to do so surreptitiously. Which means that on the surface they’ll seem accepting but underneath they’ll connive in every way possible.

All of which we’ve seen, in one form or another, in every rom-com since at least the 1930s – or maybe even sooner.

Give writer-director Parker this: He set his film in a beautiful locale. Of course, he’s known for this, having shot 2018’s “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” on an island in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia. Though a few choice scenes in “Ticket to Paradise” were indeed shot in Bali, the bulk of the movie was filmed in Queensland, Australia.

And, too, Parker benefits from the big-star energy exuded by Clooney and Roberts, who have teamed up before (arguably most effectively in Steven Soderbergh’s “Oceans” films). The two constitute the epitome of former lovers whose once-torrid lust finds release now in verbal jousting, the jibes painful but just short of actual malice. They act as the contemporary equivalent of a Clark Gable-Claudette Colbert or Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy pairing, their maturity (Clooney is 61, Roberts 54) making the classic comparisons that much more apparent.

What gets lost is that their character’s concerns are justified. Anyone, but especially someone young, can get carried away by physical beauty, whether that beauty come from another person or a place. And any combination of the two can prove downright fatal.

Clearly, though, logic and good sense don’t fit in with the dreamy fantasies woven into virtually every rom-com screenplay. And that’s especially true of “Ticket to Paradise,” which weaves its classic story tropes in with more contemporary themes of diversity and acceptance and an attitude of, in the words of Pete Townsend, the kids are alright.

Just don’t look too closely.

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