THB #241a: Two Review Friday - 2. Ticket To Paradise
You have a screenplay with key elements of My Best Friend’s Wedding and Runaway Bride. Two long-divorced parents whose daughter has quickly decided to marry a man recently met in an exotic location, going against her normally cautious practices and the well-defined plans for her future, and the parents feel compelled to break it up just before it happens.
So who do you cast? Well, Julia Roberts seems like a very easy call. She has broken up weddings before, though from different angles, as the bride herself or as a selfish friend who wants the groom for herself. In both cases, she has to grow into her peace with the outcome, marriage.
Who do you want to play it opposite her? Well, what if you could get a guy who is associated with Julia and widely considered the most charming man in the last decades of movies? Clooney.
So why is it so clear that this movie is miscast?
George Clooney has only been in one romantic comedy in his entire career. One Fine Day in 1996. It opened to $6,226,430. The good ol’ days? It was the 74th biggest opening of that year.
Why hasn’t the most charming man alive done more romantic comedies? The same reason he hasn’t played another superhero after Batman & Robin… it’s just not his thing. One Fine Day is a much better movie than Batman & Robin, so take that in consideration. But Clooney has had the insight into himself not to take either step again. Until now.
This is what you want from Clooney and Roberts…
If you were going to pair them, it would naturally be as people who like/love/lust one another, but are endlessly smart ass-y about it. A remake of The Thin Man series. If you want to do it with something keeping them apart, do a remake of The Philadelphia Story with Matt Damon as the new fiance. Easy to imagine these two in a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, though the Myrna Loy part would need some serious updating and the title would be “Mr. & Mrs.”
But the script for Ticket To Paradise - starting with the title - is just so wrong for these two. It doesn’t lean into what either actor is so great at. The relationship is harshly adversarial and even though you just know going in that they will end up having moments in which they connect with pleasure, it’s not the core of the relationship.
Roberts played in one movie with a central relationship like this before. I Love Trouble. Opened to $7,827,002 in 1994, 37th best opening that year.
The reason you make movies with movie icons is that you are mining what people love about these actors. They often can do other things besides what is close to their wheelhouse and when they have success like these two have had, you can bet they will experiment, sometimes even having hits.
The kind of gag that would work for these two in a movie like Ticket To Paradise would be if they couldn’t stop ending up in bed together. There is this real animosity, but these two are just drawn to one another that any excuse they can make to themselves, they make, because they just need to make the physical connection. And maybe they are desperate to hide it from their daughter, who they assume is having that same impulse with her handsome, exotic husband to be… which is why they want to break it up.
That way, they would really be in the same side. Their motives would be synced. There would be a real reason why they think the marriage shouldn’t happen. And they wouldn’t be like bumbling burglars who just can’t figure out how to get the job done. Two strong people who have 3 very clear shared weaknesses… their connection, their regret, and their desires for their daughter.
Obviously, there are many other options for story here. But my point is, the 2 characters, who you walk in loving, are not clearly motivated, they aren’t meant by this script to be together, they don’t have something bigger than themselves and their petty dislikes about one another to drive things. So the film ends up feeling like a series of episodic comedy set-ups and executions… which everyone is working so hard to make happen that we can practically see them sweating.
The studio marketing people knew, clearly, what the movie was supposed to be for audiences to show up. Notice in the trailer that they tell you multiple times, “they are in this together.”
But they are not in this together. They are forced together and what they are working together to do isn’t very clear. (And by the way, we, as an audience, are not 100% sure their daughter isn’t making a mistake… which is also tough.)
They steal the wedding rings. George gets bitten by a dolphin. They get sloppy drunk. They are bad dancers. Their slams at one another feel like they are barely hiding real contempt. The bit in wetsuits in the kelp garden (or whatever plant that is) feels like broad physical comedy with little purpose other than to give us some sense that these two people can actually touch one another - physically - in a way that isn’t contemptuous. But this is a gentle enough film that nothing pointed is made of them rubbing their bodies up against one another in Neoprene.
George Clooney is a great comic actor. He can play really dumb really brilliantly, as we have seen broadly in the Coen movies. He can play the comedic man under pressure in movies like Up In The Air and Descendants. Bur smart, selfish, idiot is not his thing. He may have it wrong, but he is earnestly - even when comically - trying to get it right.
And Julia Roberts, while playing closer to a familiar type, is the Julia Roberts we like when she is motivated in some clear way, overcoming obstacles to get where she must. Think about moments you remember Julia Roberts and they are likely to include her opening that mouth wide in laughter that she makes us feel surprised her… instances where her dogged determination meets the human vulnerability to be surprised.
The two of them together have been magic in interview after interview because they are movie star magic. Watching Clooney hear something, get that twinkle in his eye, and then come back with something wholly unexpected in response… that is The Money, man.
And as I wrote about Black Adam, in our short-content lives, the moments of fun that Roberts and Clooney deliver here may be satisfying for a good chunk of the audience. Though gags like the dolphin thing, which sure seems in the trailer is a dolphin coming for his mid-body package, play out as almost apologetically less direct attacks in the movie itself.
I was rooting for this movie. I am a fan of Ol Parker and this seemed like such a great opportunity. But this script was meant for Cate Blanchett and Paul Giamatti or Kate Winslet and Paul Bettany or some pairing like that. The arrival of movie icons, who it does not feel got the page one rewrite that was needed to make things fit their very special skill sets, becomes more of a bug than a feature.
The top of Parker’s career so far has been the Marigold Hotel movies, both of which he wrote. Both of those films featured an array of top-end British actors who come from the tradition of making the script work above all. They subsume themselves to the material (however big some egos). And both Clooney and Roberts have been able to do that in the past. They may have wanted to do that here and chose not to mess with the script too much.
But that is not what this piece of material is. This is a movie star machine… or at least with these two up front it is. As much as audiences loved watching Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson work, because they are a joy unto themselves, it is a different thing.
I’d love to see this pairing again. And I would be happy to see Ol Parker write and direct the film. There is magic there it be had… nearby… but out of sight this time.