‘Ticket to Paradise’ or — Enough to Make Lubitsch and Sturges Despair?
“Hey,” I thought to myself as I sat in a surprisingly busy cinema watching ‘Ticket to Paradise’ (2022) yesterday afternoon, “this isn’t THAT bad!” as Julia Roberts and George Clooney nicely sniped at each other as bitterly divorced parents attempting to sabotage their daughter’s wedding on a tropical island in Bali. And then the opening credits rolled and I realised the movie was less than five minutes in and that I had maybe built my hopes up too soon.
Look, it’s not that ‘Ticket to Paradise’ suddenly falls off a cliff or plummets downhill as more that it reaches some bizarre form of comedic homeostasis and the one thing you don’t want in a screwball, romantic comedy film is that because there’s nothing sexy, funny or exciting about a state of stable equilibrium. We need (indeed, crave!) the calamity.
The film plays out exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, as you would expect from either seeing the trailer, reading the synopsis or simply being a living human being with a semi-functioning brain. Oddly enough this makes ‘Ticket to Paradise’ absolutely impossible to spoil because how can you spoil a movie that you know how is going to end even before it has started?
So yes, Roberts and Clooney attempt to sabotage their daughter’s wedding and end up falling back in love again whilst doing so. It’s the old, screwball trope of the comedy of re-marriage where a previously married couple hook-up with each other again because it was that spark, that frisson of antagonism that gave their interpersonal dynamics excitement and life to begin with. The thrill comes from seeing how the two of them come to realise that it’s this tension they sorely need in their lives and in each other.
What’s infuriating about ‘Ticket to Paradise’ is that despite having all the ingredients, all the elements in place for a delightful and delicious high-energy farce that it then proceeds to do nothing with any of them. In fact, it seems to deliberately waste and squander every single opportunity it has — nothing is developed, built on or exploited for full satisfaction to occur.
So what we’re dealing with here is a farce without an engine, without any form of that necessary internal mechanism, or mechanisms, essential to power and drive the laughs along. The result of this lack of comedic force means the film is reduced to nothing more than a series of incidents… and that’s all.
Want an example? Then how about these hilarious moments -
At one point Roberts and Clooney wake-up after having had drunken sex the previous night only to discover than Roberts’ younger boyfriend has arrived at their hotel to surprise her. There’s no time for Clooney to exit Roberts’ room unseen (for it was in her room in which they were doing it) so they pretend his room is hers and vice versa.
Cool! It’s a highly unoriginal, yet comedically ripe, trope allowing for mistaken identities, the scurrying from room to room, the frantic opening and closing of doors or the layering of excuses to build before ultimately collapsing in chaos and hilarity.
But, instead, ‘Ticket to Paradise’ does absolutely nothing with any of this other than have Clooney and Roberts open their doors and tell her boyfriend “Oh, we swapped rooms” to which he replies “I know” and THAT’S IT! No further development or exploration just — here’s an idea and that’s that.
Or how about when Clooney gets bitten by a dolphin? The side-splitting pay-off? Clooney has been bitten by a dolphin which means the pay-off is also the set-up. It’s like some new form of extreme minimalist comedy where they’ve taken the radical decision to strip away ALL the punchlines.
‘Ticket to Paradise’ isn’t totally godawful, just comedically anaemic and barren meaning it’s less like watching a comedy movie and more like watching a group of scientists smashing Clooney and Roberts together in a high velocity particle accelerator in a futile attempt to discover some new form of hitherto unknown and exotic rom-com element or state of matter. Roberts and Clooney are still charmed particles but whatever else it is they’ve discovered is inherently and innately humourously inert.