Ticket to Paradise romcom

Ticket to Paradise is more proof that the romcom is dead — like really, really dead

“The animal attraction that makes other romcoms work is missing from this film. While both Roberts and Clooney can normally turn up the heat, there are no sparks between their characters here, and the holier than thou Zoomers act like Barbie and Ken dolls: utterly sexless.”

Descended from screwball (and before that, the comedy of errors), the romantic comedy has long been one of my favourite film genres. At best, a romcom will play with power dynamics and perverse games of attraction; they’re a mess of contradictions as people say one thing and often do the opposite. Someone you hate becomes the person you love most. The safe choice is never the right one. While many romcoms end in marriage, a pillar of heteronormativity, there’s also always been something subversive about the genre. The relationships at the heart of the best romantic comedies are all wrong on paper — they only work because attraction is mysterious, irrational and dangerous.

Unfortunately, the romcom is all but dead. Some recent films like The Worst Person in the World have echoes of the genre, but they are few and far between. The modern golden era of the romantic comedies died sometime in the mid-2000s as filmmakers struggled to integrate the realities of modern online dating and the false idea that romantic comedies were somehow retrograde and unfeminist. Maybe, though, the genre died with Nora Ephron back in 2012. 

Ticket to Paradise, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, held some promise that it could revive the romcom. The script reunites the last American movie stars as Georgia and Dave in a haters-to-lovers storyline against the backdrop of tropical Bali. Long divorced by the film’s opening, their only daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), is fresh out of law school and plans to elope with a seaweed fisherman she just met. Though sworn enemies, Georgia and Dave team up to sabotage their daughter’s wedding. 

Though Roberts and Clooney have buckets of charisma, there’s little they can do to save this sinking ship. Underwritten and overproduced, Ticket to Paradise feels uncomfortable, full of setups without any payoffs, as if someone swapped out all the punchlines for sunsets. The few gags that survived feel strangely sanitized, like when a dolphin rams head first towards Clooney’s crotch, only for us to see him bitten near the ankle on the beach. Later, after a night of heavy drinking, Clooney has to wear some “tight” yoga pants, which are just tye-dyed parachute pants. While, inarguably, neither of these jokes would be particularly funny regardless, the lack of commitment is representative of a film that feels castrated and left to die in the hot sun.

The animal attraction that makes other romcoms work is ultimately missing from the film. Underneath the surface of the bickering couple, we should feel a deep yearning the characters have for each other; their desire to rip each other to shreds should also make them want to rip off each other’s clothes. While both Roberts and Clooney can normally turn up the heat, there are no sparks between the characters here. They play well off each other, but there’s no tension between them.

That non-existent sexual charge should similarly be felt within the relationship they’re trying to tear apart. Why else would two young people who just met want to get married if not for an intense sexual connection? Yet, the holier than thou Zoomers act like Barbie and Ken dolls: utterly sexless. Without that undercurrent of tension, what’s the point? It only makes me believe that Dave was right when he said that Lily only fell in love with paradise, and in a few years, she’ll grow bored and go home. Much of the rest of the film is equally bland, some outright bad. It’s a movie where nothing happens, but not in a cool hangout movie kind of way. 

The cast does their best with the material at hand. Aside from Clooney and Roberts, Billie Lourd does a great job as the messy best friend, though one senses that her role is heavily sanitized. One of the film’s few highlights is when she’s first introduced in her dorm, sitting at her desk, which features a giant pile of condoms and a vase filled with licorice. Her sleepy expression says more than any other line of dialogue. It’s absurd and almost beautiful, at least in the context of a movie with so little personality. The other highlight is Georgia’s boyfriend, the dumber-than-rocks French pilot Gede (Lucas Bravo), who does not waste a single second of his screen time. Though coming up against titans of cinema, he holds his own and easily has the most laughs in the film. 

Most of the film’s plot is centred on the older couple sabotaging various traditions or interactions between their daughter and their potential future son-in-law. Their antics are never particularly smart or clever, and the film isn’t even brave enough to underline their cruelty or pettiness. It’s a film that ultimately feels aimless and without real meaning. A few whisps of smoke followed by a blooper reel. The movie isn’t even offensively bad — it’s just incredibly bland and pointless. ■

Ticket to Paradise (directed by Ol Parker)

Ticket to Paradise opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Oct. 21.

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