The rom-com formula remains strong

This is a spoiler-free review.

It’s so hard to hate the romantic comedy genre. Some people think it’s a phase, others think it’s cheesy and artificial, and then there’s the category of viewers who pretend to hate it. 

I’m a rom-com lover, and I’m not ashamed about it. Best friends turned lovers. Secret childhood connections. Guy uses a love interest as a ruse to attract another person, only to discover that what he was looking for was right in front of him all along. I’m down for all of them.

Personally, just give me two characters who are fueled by pettiness but secretly yearn to be in the arms of one another, and I will chew that up with comfort ice cream. Something about the genre and its fairytale aspirations makes audiences swoon with passionate affection. Call it what you want – magic or naïveté – but you can’t deny its effectiveness.

And so here comes a new rom-com offering from Julia Roberts and George Clooney, two actors you simply cannot take your eyes off once they get in the groove. A known master in the genre, Roberts expertly sinks into her rom-com royalty heels, and it still fits gorgeously. On the other hand, Clooney manages to make what would otherwise be a repugnable old white dude into a charming goofball. 

Pairing the two in a rom-com after five films together (most prominently in the Ocean’s trilogy) is a smart move. Not only are they accomplished and charismatic actors, but they’re at the right place and right time in their careers for this film to work. Ticket to Paradise allows Roberts and Clooney a chance to relax, chill, and not take themselves too seriously in a fun escapist getaway in Bali, Indonesia.

The film introduces David (Clooney) and Georgia Cotton (Roberts), a divorced couple forced to reunite as their daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), abruptly decides to marry an Indonesian man he just met named Gede (Maxime Bouttier). The two parents decide to visit their daughter in the hopes of bringing her back to America to continue being a lawyer. Little do they know that the trip will resuscitate the remaining embers of love lingering between them.

Along the ride are Lily’s carefree friend Wren (Billie Lourd) and the scene-stealing loyal lackey named Paul (Lucas Bravo), who is submissive to Georgia to a fault. A tug-of-war game ensues as the divorcees make moves to prevent the wedding from happening. Later on, it becomes clear that it’s a battle of cultures, and, predictably, the film sits squarely within the Western side until it slowly softens as it reveals more about Indonesian life.

Let’s first get the elephant topic out of the window: big colonizer energy. Is the film engaging in some sort of skewered balancing act between honoring Indonesian culture and wedding customs and asserting its own Western gaze? Probably, and it’s most apparent in the first half.

Clooney and Roberts, without a doubt, have chemistry. But if I were a character in this film, I’d see them as insufferable and unconscionable foreigners. It is only when definitive challenges to their world views arrive in the form of their daughter calling them out for their selfishness that the film makes attempts at unshackling itself from privileged undertones.

It’s the same line of attack that critics have used against Roberts’ previous film Eat Pray Love, which centered on a woman finding self-discovery by traveling to exotic and mystical places. Needless to say, people have been turned off by this brand of postcolonial orientalism. A 2010 NPR article mentions how this phenomenon relies on the “stereotype that the East is someplace timeless, otherworldly, incomprehensible, waiting to be discovered by Westerners in search of self.” 

It also doesn’t help to find out the film wasn’t even shot in Bali, Indonesia. It was filmed in Queensland, Australia, due to the production schedule coinciding with the height of COVID-19 restrictions. This means that, while it is unquestionably a move made in dire circumstances, technical wizardry was used to accentuate the beauty of Indonesian culture, which unfortunately bestowed the scenery with a certain degree of artificiality.

Considering this, the main romance was the film’s unmistakable saving grace. In an interview with Variety, Roberts said: “I think it’s so funny…it’s probably going to be terrible because there’s too much potential for it to be great, it’ll just implode on it itself. I think that should be the commercial for the movie: ‘It’s probably going to be terrible.’”

Weirdly enough, Clooney and Roberts having a terrible amount of fun was precisely what the film needed. Seeing the two dance off in a nondescript nightclub after winning a beer pong battle against their potential son-in-law is the kind of dopamine boost that is difficult to replicate. In some respects, the two leads don’t even feel like a divorced couple. They have the banter and tenderness that most fictional married couples could only dream of.

Though the frames of this film are laden with a “we’ve seen this before” climate, the clichés and stereotypes are embraced not due to a lack of originality but because they compel us to care about the fantasy that the rom-com is trying to sell. Ticket to Paradise elicits a great deal of fun and laughter, but I’m not pretending that it was revolutionary or game-changing as a result.

I bought into the escapism because it’s natural to want to imagine meeting the one on a paradise island and not care about future ramifications. It’s instinctual to want to have two people who have a tragic past reconcile and meet halfway in the grandest way possible. The film knows how to push the right buttons, and it’s nice to have some semblance of romantic justice projected on the big screen. 

Overall, Ticket to Paradise is best viewed in a vacuum. The cocktail and beach aesthetic, the colorful Indonesian wedding rituals, and the huge host of attractive cast members are all in service of giving the most pleasant and gratifying experience. If you allow yourself to be stranded on a beautiful island and forget about all the problems in the world, it works. –

Ticket to Paradise is now showing in Philippine cinemas. 

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