Julia Roberts doesn’t do rom-coms anymore. In fact, she hasn’t been in a film that could really be classified as one for more than twenty years and yet, if one were to think of the genre that rose to cinema dominance in the nineties and persisted through the noughties, Roberts’ name (and million-watt smile) would be plastered on the tin alongside Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock’s. George Clooney, another fixture of the genre – and of a time when big-name celebrities were reason enough to buy a movie ticket – hasn’t had a major role in a film he didn’t direct in over five years. For years the romantic comedy was cheapened as a genre, dismissed as ‘women’s pictures’, accused of being dumbed down, simplified, schlocky, you name it. The greatest of rom-coms are great because they seem effortless, seamless even – you don’t even realise the level of craft that goes into it because it feels as though it always existed, like a cozy, well-worn sweater. Go back and watch When Harry Met Sally, and marvel at the painterly compositions, the careful management of light on the characters’ faces. Or check out the airtight script that made Notting Hill a sensation. Or admire the quiet radicalism of something like My Best Friend’s Wedding, that set the genre on fire and had fun doing it. It’s a deceptively difficult craft to get right, but one that was methodically undervalued and has now become an utter rarity, too often banished entirely from cinema screens for the doldrums of streaming back-catalogues.
So what is it about Ol Parker’s Ticket to Paradise, the new, emphatically big-screen rom-com starring Roberts and Clooney, that managed to lure these two titans out of semi-retirement from the genre? Any number of scripts of a similar nature must have passed both actors by, and yet here they are headlining a film that has featured some of the most nondescript marketing (and, let’s be honest, a deeply uninspiring title) I’ve seen for a major release all year. The answer is almost immediately apparent in the film’s confident, patient scripting, glossy approach and willingness to let its stars burn brightly and earnestly. Parker, who delivered shocking quality from another project few expected to be a diamond in the rough – Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! – is also the helmer of a wonderful and underseen rom-com, 2005’s Imagine Me and You, and so is replete with bona fides for this story of a bitterly divorced couple who must join forces and travel to Bali in order to stop a shotgun wedding between their daughter and a local she met while holidaying mere weeks before. Parker is clearly something of a savant of the genre, with a knack for both comedy and sweeping emotion blessedly devoid of the choking irony that saw this kind of work dismissed time and time again.
Warm, funny and moving, this glossy big-screen rom-com reunites two icons of the genre for a film that feels both forward-looking and rooted in the hallmarks of classic rom-coms past. It’s a breezy, enjoyable time that feels like so much more in the context of the modern cinema landscape.
Ticket to Paradise recognises that an unfussy, genial pace works in the favour of a film of this nature, and it shows in scenes that place our feelings for the characters onscreen first and foremost. The first act spends almost as much time with Clooney and Roberts’ wayward daughter Lily (a luminous Kaitlyn Dever) and her new beau Gede (Maxime Bouttier) as the mega-stars, allowing us to understand just how such a union came to be. Similarly, both Clooney and Roberts are given ample opportunity to work their charm and to tug at the heartstrings. A late night monologue at a bar from Clooney made me realise just how much I had missed his movie-star persona on our screens, while Roberts seems to thrill at the way the film’s spry, sweet-natured script maintains her rom-com persona while adding refreshing new shades, reflecting her growing up with the genre she helped usher into being.
All the parts of Ticket to Paradise are familiar – indeed, that’s part of the draw of the genre, knowing where it’ll go but delighting in the journey nevertheless. Where the joy in this film lies is in the way it emphatically and unapologetically positions itself alongside those great rom-coms of yesteryear, as something deserving of your time in the cinema. It’s old-fashioned in ways that don’t bog it down, maintaining an eye to the future. Ticket to Paradise doesn’t feel like a relic – it’s refreshing because it’s recalling a familiar form, but building on it, and providing a path for other types of films of its ilk into the future. If it signals the start of a big-screen rom-com renaissance, then I’m all in.
In cinemas now.
Ticket to Paradise
Movie title: Ticket to Paradise (Parker, 2022)
Movie description: Warm, funny and moving, this glossy big-screen rom-com reunites two icons of the genre for a film that feels both forward-looking and rooted in the hallmarks of classic rom-coms past. It’s a breezy, enjoyable time that feels like so much more in the context of the modern cinema landscape.
Date published: September 15, 2022
Author: Ol Parker, Daniel Pipski
Director(s): Ol Parker
Actor(s): George Clooney, Julia Roberts
Genre: Romance, Comedy