Can an old school rom-com be a 'Ticket to Paradise'? : Pop Culture Happy Hour In the film Ticket to Paradise, George Clooney and Julia Roberts play divorced parents determined to stop the wedding of their adult daughter. It's part romantic comedy, part wacky adventure, and part gorgeous travel movie. Clooney and Roberts star alongside Kaitlyn Dever, Maxime Bouttier and Billie Lourd.

Can an old school rom-com be a 'Ticket to Paradise'?

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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

In the new film "Ticket To Paradise," George Clooney and Julia Roberts play divorced parents determined to stop the wedding of their adult daughter. It's part romantic comedy, part wacky adventure and part gorgeous travel movie full of beaches and sunsets and beautiful blue water.

AISHA HARRIS, HOST:

In a time when romantic comedies in theaters aren't as common as they once were, Clooney and Roberts bring their considerable movie star powers to bear alongside younger actors like Kaitlyn Dever, who plays their daughter. I'm Aisha Harris.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today, we're talking about "Ticket To Paradise" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLMES: Joining us today is the host of NPR's It's Been a Minute, Brittany Luse. Hey, Brittany.

BRITTANY LUSE, BYLINE: Hi.

HOLMES: Also joining us for her POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR debut is freelance journalist Cristina Escobar. She's the co-founder and editor-in-chief of latinamedia.co. Welcome to the show, Cristina.

CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Thank you so much for having me.

HOLMES: We are absolutely delighted to welcome you. "Ticket To Paradise" is the first straight-up romantic comedy really that George Clooney and Julia Roberts have appeared in together, even though, notably, they've played exes before in "Ocean's Eleven." Here they play David and Georgia Cotton, a couple of wealthy professionals who divorced years ago when their daughter Lily, played by Kaitlyn Dever, was young and who have been fighting ever since. Now, Lily, fresh out of undergrad and about to start a career as a lawyer - we'll get back to it, maybe - has announced her intention to marry Gede, a lovely young man played by Maxime Bouttier, whom she met while vacationing in Bali with her friend Wren, played by Billie Lourd. Sure that this is all a huge and impulsive mistake, David and Georgia head for the wedding weekend, united for once in a common goal to stop Lily from getting married. It's directed by Ol Parker, who previously made the "Mamma Mia" sequel, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," and it's in theaters now. The film spends a lot of time on Georgia and David's bickering, their eventual rediscovery of at least some fondness for each other and the beautiful sights, which we should mention are actually the beautiful sights of Queensland, Australia, standing in for Bali here. There's a lot going on, despite the fact that this movie is so resolutely old-fashioned. Brittany, what did you think?

LUSE: I thought it was pleasant enough. And I definitely got a lot out of the charm of - individually and together - Julia Roberts and George Clooney. However, I felt like the film was kind of formulaic. Even some things were confusing - like you just mentioned - like, how do you graduate from undergraduate?

HARRIS: I had that exact same question.

LUSE: Right? And then you're a lawyer. I was like, girl, like, did you graduate from law school or not? Are you taking the bar? What's happening?

HOLMES: Normally, I think fact-checking things like that is not that productive. But in this case, I think it actually indicates an actual problem, which is they need her to be really young so that can seem less weird that her parents are interfering in her decision to get married, but they also want her to be on the cusp of this career so that her father's concern can be, you're on the cusp of this career being a lawyer. So they're trying to make it less patriarchy, yay, that her parents are interfering in the first place.

LUSE: Yeah.

HOLMES: And I think they get caught in this, she needs to be really young...

LUSE: Right.

HOLMES: ...But also older. And I actually think it's a substantive thing. But anyway...

LUSE: Yes. I felt like it was formulaic, but they were great in it, which, to me, is a testament to, like, their star power, their charm, their charisma, their chemistry, their talent. I don't know that I would go to see it in the theater, but if it was on TV on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I think it's a pleasant watch. That being said, I also felt like there was a lot of weirdness between the fact that Gede, the young fiancee to their daughter Lily, that Gede was Balinese and there was all sorts of - like, the way that they showed Balinese culture was cartoony and kind of goofy at times to me. I also wish that they had shown why Gede and Lily were in love in the first place. It just felt like the movie was kind of, like, a little unmotivated because, like - I don't even know. Like, we saw them - what? - like, kiss. We saw Lily and Gede kiss.

HOLMES: Yeah.

LUSE: And then the next thing, 37 days pass, and then they're, like, getting married. And she knows his whole family. And I'm like, can we get a little something for me as the viewer to know why they should be together?

HOLMES: Yeah.

LUSE: But yeah, I mean - yeah, I mean, all those, I think, point to kind of how old-fashioned it was. But I - again, I still felt like when I got to the end of it, I was like, oh, I really enjoyed Julia Roberts and George Clooney. And I wish that they could have gotten something a little bit more saucy, substantive.

HOLMES: Better script. I just think it needed to be a better script, but I'm kind of giving away my own opinion. Cristina, talk to me. What did you think?

ESCOBAR: I agree. I mean, the movie was nice. It was pleasant. It was beautifully shot. There's no denying the charisma and chemistry of Julia Roberts and George Clooney. They're just a delight to see. The movie definitely leans on that a lot. I think as a romantic comedy, it hit all the paces, right? It did all of the things, the miscommunications, the misunderstandings, the bickering, the love-to-hate-to-hate-to-love-back-and-forth stuff. I agree. It's not something you need to, like, sit down and give your full attention to. It's more of a background-type movie, maybe an airplane-type movie.

The one place where it sort of rose above its literal sort of genre openings was in the portrayal of parenthood. There was something really lovely, I thought, in showing two parents who are not transformed by parenthood, who remain flawed, imperfect people and whose real growth over the course of the movie isn't in falling back in love but in trying to figure out how to be better parents and how to recognize their daughter as a grown-up, as a human, as someone deserving of respect. And that, to me, was the place where the movie reached a little bit - just a little tiny bit higher than its packaging and made it just a little bit more interesting maybe than you would have expected. But you have to kind of be tuned into it for maybe that to resonate to you.

HOLMES: Yeah, I agree. Aisha, what did you think?

HARRIS: I think that's a great point. I mean, for me, every two to three years, some magazine will go all-in on, like, a rom-com week. And they'll feature the same 25, 50 rom-coms that we all talk about - "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless In Seattle," blah, blah, blah. I don't think this is going to make any ranking in the future making of a feature rom-com week at a publication. What I will say is that like Grant and Hepburn before them, the combination of Clooney and Roberts, they bicker well, and even more so than them actually falling back in love or whatever. To me, just their sort of snarkiness and those moments where you can really see, like, they both are really good at playing kind of arrogant, irritating people who are nevertheless very, very charming. I think one of my favorite moments is when they are on the plane to Bali. And they have just this great moment of snark and irritation in having to be seated close to one another on this very long trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TICKET TO PARADISE")

JULIA ROBERTS: (As Georgia Cotton) Excuse me, ma'am. I need to sit somewhere else.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'm sorry. It's a full flight.

ROBERTS: (As Georgia Cotton) We used to be married.

GEORGE CLOONEY: (As David Cotton) The worst 19 years of my life.

ROBERTS: (As Georgia Cotton) We were only married for five.

CLOONEY: (As David Cotton) I'm counting the recovery.

ROBERTS: (As Georgia Cotton) I can't sit there.

HARRIS: Their irritation with one another in those moments and the way they're able to play that really crackles for me. It's those moments that worked. Other than that, I feel as though there were other rom-coms that came out this year that I really enjoyed that I think we're doing a little bit different things, even though as much as I love the two of them together, when I think of something like "I Want You Back"...

LUSE: Oh, I saw that.

HARRIS: ...It starred Charlie Day and Jenny Slate as two strangers who attempt to help each other get back together with their respective exes. I really thought it was funny. And the jokes were hitting there. And the same with "The Lost City," which has a sort of similar, like, we're in a tropical location and things go wrong. It was Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum. But that movie had a weirdness to it with like Daniel Radcliffe as this villain. And it was weird in a way that this movie is not. So yeah, needed more, like, sharper jokes and could have stood to be a little weirder. That was my sort of sense of it. But pleasant enough.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know, I felt myself being kind of super served by this movie because I don't want to fall into the trap of saying, like, these are the real movie stars. 'Cause who the real movie stars are depends entirely on who you are, when you grew up. To me, these are my movie stars based on what I was super into when I was developing my love of movies. So it was wonderful to see them. I love romantic comedy. I really like them together. I agree with Aisha that they bicker really well, but I do think that in the beginning part of the script, you know, when you write a romantic comedy, there has to be conflict, and there has to be crackle. But you don't want it to cross over into them being, like, really unpleasant to the point where people sort of tune out of being invested in them.

And I did feel a little bit of that where I was like, these people are sort of both jerks. They're also like very similar jerks. Aisha, you mentioned "When Harry Met Sally." One of the interesting things about that movie is that they're both neurotic and irritating but differently so. And I did feel like these people were a little too samey. I'm not sure I really got a sense of why they ever would have been together in the first place. One of the things I found frustrating is that there are a couple of scenes in the movie where you really do see, I think, the potential for maybe a more interesting movie than this is. There's a really nice scene between George Clooney and Billie Lourd, which I was afraid was going in a direction thankfully it didn't go.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Oh, yeah. I had that worry as well.

LUSE: Me, too.

HOLMES: I was very, very nervous when I saw that scene start. But it fortunately, it's actually a really nice scene. I think he does a really nice job in that scene. There's a scene late between Julia Roberts and Kaitlyn Dever that I think grows out of the fact that those are both really good actors. And I felt in those moments a more interesting movie than I think the rest of it often is. I did have a bit of, you know, discomfort with depictions of the culture and the rituals and stuff. Mostly, I think they were trying to have the humor there be kind of at the expense of the awkwardness of Lily's parents. But I do think when - you know, there's an accumulation of language barrier jokes that I think eventually becomes a little bit like, let's do something else, you know?

LUSE: Yes.

HOLMES: I do think as the movie goes along, they start to give a little bit more shape, particularly to the character of Gede's father, which I really appreciated. I wished there is a little bit more of that earlier. But, you know, I think they're trying to do a bunch of different things and solve a bunch of different problems. The main one of which is it is really hard to make it make any sense for parents to come and want to disrupt and ruin the wedding of an adult daughter without that seeming like they're just monsters. You have to write the story so that, A, they can want to disrupt the wedding without being monsters, and B, they can then decide not to disrupt the wedding and to go along with it.

So finding a way to make the story kind of fit all of these pieces of plot necessity is actually quite difficult. I'm not sure they always do that right. For some reason, even though this movie is an hour and 44 minutes long, I felt like it didn't kind of get to the stuff I wanted to get to. But at the same time, it's funny that you mentioned, Brittany, about, like, would you really see this in a theater? Because I teared up at the end of this movie during, like, the kind of emotional climactic moments of the film. And I think it's not just the movie. I think it's because I really miss going to the movies in this way that I really love to see something that I really love. It was a very sweet experience for me to be served a romantic comedy in a movie theater, you know, starring some of my favorite people, which hasn't happened that much in the last few years.

HARRIS: The way I gauge these things these days is I try to think of the people who I know would like these movies. And I do agree that, like, despite the fact that I feel as though it would play better on streaming or just on TBS or something on a Tuesday or on a Sunday afternoon, there's something kind of charming about this existing and being there and, like, being able to watch this on the big screen. And I kind of hope that we do, to some extent, get more of these types of movies back in theaters, but it's probably not going to happen. I feel like this is like one of the last gasps of this because they are still, like you were saying, Linda, they are one of the last movie stars of that era.

ESCOBAR: I would say, though, one of the things that is a case for this movie being in the movie theaters is just how beautiful it is. Like, the colors, the settings, the places they go are beautiful. And I saw "Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!" in the movie theaters, and it was a joy.

(LAUGHTER)

ESCOBAR: Like, it was a silly, ridiculous joy. And this movie isn't as fun, I don't think. It's slower. They missed some beats. Things don't make sense in a way.

HOLMES: It's not a musical.

HARRIS: It's not a musical.

ESCOBAR: It's not a musical. But it is still fun. And I think it harks closest to that movie because it has so many of the same pieces. And I know they're by the same director. And you can feel that, like, beautiful place, beautiful people, nothing too major at stake. It's a peaceful, nice movie, but it's a beautiful movie and one that is perhaps fun to go see in a theater where you can really just sort of be swept away by it and be like, I'm going to Google Bali and maybe see about what vacationing, like, there is really like. Because it really does sort of sell that, like, fantasy of somewhere to go, somewhere beautiful, some sort of escape. And it's nice to have a movie where you can just escape and chill out for a little while.

HOLMES: I will say I was a little bit bummed. Billie Lourd here is playing the - essentially the Judy Greer of this movie...

HARRIS: Yes.

HOLMES: ...As Lily's best friend. I thought that part was a little underwritten and didn't really - like, if you've seen her in, like, "Booksmart" and some other stuff, she's just an absolute dynamo. She's so good, and she's so funny. I mean, look, it's sort of over-resourced in some ways. Like, you didn't really need to get Kaitlyn Dever to play this part. You didn't really need to get Billie Lourd to play this part. So much of it is about this, you know, emphasis on the parents and everything.

HARRIS: Yeah. All - everything aside, the fact that, like, parents shouldn't be trying to stop their children from getting married or whatever, were they wrong, though?

LUSE: So is my thing. This is my thing.

HARRIS: It'd been two months.

LUSE: She was gone for two months. And then she was like, I'm getting married. And, like, Bali is far. I mean - well, I mean, I'm in New York.

HARRIS: It's far from most...

HOLMES: It's far.

HARRIS: Yes.

LUSE: She was making a decision to literally move to a country it seemed like neither of the parents had ever been to; she'd never been to before. She was marrying somebody who she had just met within the past two months. She updated them on her life to be like, come to my wedding. I could see - I don't have any children. I could see being like, what? (Laughter) What? And being like, I need to go over there. I felt like sometimes - I think my issue - I felt like they were meaner to the daughter and her fiance than they were meaner to each other sometimes. That kind of got me.

HOLMES: I definitely had that thought of like, boy, she has not known this guy very long. That is far. Like, I know some people who have moved far away from their families, and it's been really, really hard on them. It's a big thing to decide. It's less that I don't think it's cool that they were bothered by the announcement. It just was very weird to me that, like, it seemingly never occurred to them to just be like, hey, you know, we have these concerns. Let's sit down and talk.

LUSE: Right.

HOLMES: It was the high jinks. The immediate, immediate resort to high jinks was kind of what I was put off by.

LUSE: No, I agree.

ESCOBAR: I agree. And I felt like all of the characters were underbaked. It wasn't just the best friend. None of them really had any motivation.

LUSE: So was the daughter.

ESCOBAR: So was the daughter and, like, what is she going to do there? Like, is she going to farm seaweed?

LUSE: I guess so.

ESCOBAR: Like, her day - is she going to hang out? Like, it's very unclear what her life is going to be like. And so I definitely agree it makes sense for the parents to have concerns, but to be so manipulative feels very odd. But, of course, that's how you make a movie, right? There's a little...

HOLMES: Any time you make a romantic comedy...

HARRIS: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...In particular. It's not the first time that resort to high jinks has been the go-to of romantic comedy. Let's be honest.

LUSE: To everyone's point about seeing this in theaters - a movie that's, like, a kind of breezy film with actual movie stars in it, not, like, the moviegoing event of the season, not going to be something that's going to be nominated for a bunch of Oscars, features absolutely zero superheroes and no murder, it is a type of movie that, like - (laughter) that isn't really made as much anymore. I will say I felt like the film did exactly what they advertised it was going to do. I enjoyed it. But part of maybe why I feel kind of meh about it is because we are so starved for movies like that now that I'm like, oh, a romantic comedy in a tropical locale with George Clooney and Julia Roberts - this is going to change my life. This is going to cure my depression. This is going to make up for the fact that there is no Adderall anywhere. It's going to solve everything; that I feel like I know that I came into it probably with a certain amount of pressure on the film (laughter).

HOLMES: Your expectations were very high, as were mine.

LUSE: They were.

HARRIS: But there's nothing wrong with that.

HOLMES: It was like, I am so psyched about this. Like...

HARRIS: No, no, we want better for the both of these movie stars. Like, that's what we want.

LUSE: But also, I mean, the thing is, though, is that like - I don't know. When I was growing up, "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days," all those goofy movies that came out in the early 2000s, they were everywhere. We had three of them happening every - do you know how many times I've seen "Failure To Launch" with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker? They didn't even have chemistry in that movie, and I've seen it, like, six times.

HOLMES: That's the thing he was doing for a while.

LUSE: Exactly. And, like, he's one of the biggest movie stars of the '90s and 2000s. But it's like there were so many movies like that out all of the time that there wasn't really any pressure on it.

HOLMES: Right. That's true.

LUSE: I will say that I really, really miss the time when it was just sort of like that was what you did when you were a big movie star is, like, you made a movie like this.

HOLMES: It's funny. I think that sometimes in people's heads they think that Clooney has done more romantic comedy than he actually has. He certainly has done movies with wonderful romantic comedy elements, like "Ocean's Eleven." But he actually hasn't done that many. And if you are kind of finding yourself being like, I really kind of want to watch this movie and I have, like, a longing for this, I would recommend him with Michelle Pfeiffer in "One Fine Day"...

LUSE: "One Fine Day."

HARRIS: Oh, yeah.

HOLMES: ...Which is actually a really charming - really charming movie to me. I really like that movie. And it's sort of the - like, in that stretch that you're talking about, Brittany, where there were, like, a gajillion (ph) - like, everybody who was a movie star was kind of doing fun, diverting rom-coms. So if you're interested in this, maybe check out "One Fine Day."

LUSE: I'd thumbs that up.

HOLMES: Well, if you get a chance to see "Ticket To Paradise," we want to know what you think, whether you watch it, you know, in a theater or not. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Aisha Harris, Brittany Luse, Cristina Escobar, thanks to all of you so much for being here.

HARRIS: Thanks, Linda.

LUSE: Thank you.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second and you're so inclined, sign up for our newsletter. It's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. This episode was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Rommel Wood and Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Linda Holmes, and we'll see you all tomorrow when we will be talking about the new movie "Wendell & Wild."

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