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The Parent Trap

Universal Pictures

Ticket to Paradise (2022)

As an advertisement for modern parenting, “Ticket to Paradise” is a terrific argument for abortion on demand. Instead, it’s meant to be that dying art, the romantic comedy. While on holiday in Bali with best friend Wren (Billie Lourd), recent law grad Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) meets local man Gede (pronounced G’day, and played by Maxime Bouttier) and almost immediately they decide to get married. But the movie doesn’t care about them. Their relationship only exists to spite Lily’s parents, who have been bitterly divorced for decades. Instead the romance and the comedy are meant to be found in whether David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) will be able to set aside their mutual loathing and work together to prevent the wedding. How comedic! How romantic!

The only reason “Ticket to Paradise” succeeds even a little bit is entirely due to Mr. Clooney and Ms. Roberts’s superstar personal charm. The scene where David and Georgia challenge Gede and Lily to a game of beer pong which turns into a wild night of dancing to ’90s hits is as fun as any major film has been in a while. Ms. Roberts’s laugh has lost none of its power and the movie uses it like a weapon. But the romance between Gede and Lily is barely explored beyond a quick scene where Gede shows off his seaweed farm (not a metaphor); and Lily remarks she feels “out of balance.” The gorgeous Balinese scenery is consistently portrayed as equal to Gede’s personal appeal for the reason Lily wants to marry him; quite the advertisement for Indonesia, and unfair to Mr. Bouttier, who does charming, solid work without being kitsch.

But nothing about “Ticket in Paradise” is fair. Money is never mentioned by anybody, nor is birth control. Ms. Lourd’s character only gets half a scene of her own, and is so underwritten she doesn’t even get a chance to be clichéd. The fact that only one woman in Gede’s family speaks English while all the men are fluent isn’t explained, though the family of color being used as window dressing for the white people’s antics is sadly par for the Hollywood course. Ms. Dever is superb as the downtrodden daughter sick of being torn to pieces by her selfish parents, but barely convincing as a young woman so swept away by new love she is willing to exchange her education, her career, her country and her culture for it. Lucas Bravo as Paul, Georgia’s younger French airline pilot boyfriend, is significantly better as a fool for love, though his turn as the pratfalling comic relief serves only to make the case that Georgia has terrible taste in men.

It’s the ongoing, spiteful commentary on Georgia’s choices which makes “Ticket to Paradise” stick in the craw. David’s behavior is never held to account, not even in the deeply awkward scene where Wren has nothing to do but supportively listen to a self-pitying monologue about their divorce. Back in the day David upstaged Georgia’s college graduation by leaping onstage and proposing to her on bended knee, before she had been handed her diploma. This is portrayed as an act of high romance – Georgia was about to go away to grad school; and David was worried that would be the end of their relationship – instead of an act of coercive control and public shaming that made Georgia feel she had no choice but to accept, not least because she became pregnant with Lily within the month. Unsurprisingly to any woman who’s had her life plans sabotaged by a man in the name of love, the marriage failed within five years. And the script would have us believe Georgia and David were equally to blame. Then again it was written by men – Daniel Pipski and Ol Parker, who also directed.

David’s narcissism and controlling behavior are seen as one-off mistakes, over and over again; Mr. Clooney’s famous charm and willingness to clown against his handsomeness obviously has a lot to do with this, but it’s all in the script. David even openly insults Gede (which Gede, wisely, keeps to himself), but the ending gives David a redemption that he has done literally nothing to deserve. And it’s all because the script has Georgia deliver a teary monologue of her own. It needed Wren to listen supportively before guffawing in disbelief, but instead Georgia has to tell David how grateful she is to be Lily’s mother and how happy her life has been because of that. As if motherhood, especially straight out of college, is all any woman really wants.

Mr. Parker might have got away with similarly reactionary foolishness in “Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again” because of the high-camp musical setting and everybody’s gleeful promiscuity, but not even every ounce of Ms. Roberts’s skill can make a story like Georgia and David’s romantic. It’s destructive, is what it is. It’s a woman knuckling under to someone else’s wishes because her own will has been crushed; and she will drink any Kool-Aid to make it stop. The ending comes so close to allowing Georgia just to be a person – nobody’s mother, girlfriend or ex-wife – but this movie was made by men, and what happiness do men have without someone to boss around? Well, in fairness: men of a certain age. Paul is perfectly happy to have Georgia call all the shots; and Gede is adamant he won’t ever stop Lily from fully being herself. Feminism seems to have reached the 20somethings, at least. But “Ticket to Paradise”’s premise should have been strangled in the cradle. What a nasty disappointment.


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