A White person finding peace and quiet away from family, friends and cultural responsibilities in a tropical paradise is a story that’s as old as if not older than Gauguin’s fame. This time, it isn’t a man. In “Ticket to Paradise,” it’s the only child of two bitterly divorced upper-middle-class parents on a post graduation vacay. In Bali, with her lush of a bestie, this woman gets her carefully planned life sidetracked and decides to marry a guy she’s known for less than two months; her concerned parents team up to derail those plans.
If you watch the trailer, you know how this is going to end and after watching the full film, I can say that the trailer tells you the whole story and shows most of the highlights. The film is a fusion of the fish-out-of-water, White Person in paradise version with the back to the fun of farming and fundamentals. We first meet the daughter, Lily Cotton (Kaitlyn Dever) as she braces herself for graduation. Her parents, David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts), will be sitting together. When Georgia graduated and planned to move far away, David suddenly proposed. This story is told from both Georgia and David’s perspectives which are amusingly different and that’s a key point. David and Georgia got married, had a kid and then, after five years, called it quits.
Now watching their daughter on stage receiving her diploma, David and Georgia loudly show their love and their competitive nature, each trying to outdo the other in declarations of loving devotion. It’s small wonder that Lily is escaping to Bali with her condom-carton-packing bestie Wren (Billie Lourd). We never learn much about Wren’s family but she’s there for support and comic relief. In Bali, the bikini-clad besties end an afternoon of snorkeling deserted by their tour boat. Their knight-in-shining armor is a tall, dark and handsome local in baggie shorts, Gede (Maxime Bouttier). Once Lily sets eyes on him, even Wren is forgotten.
Gede happens to live in an airy, spacious bungalow that overlooks a pristine white sand beach with calm waters and floating rectangular baskets that hold his crop. Gede is a seaweed farmer. His original market was Japan, but that has expanded to international markets. There’s no rush, no sweat, no reality here.
Thirty-seven days later, Lily’s parents get the news that Lily is getting married. Declaring a truce, David and Georgia are in lock-step in their plans to sabotage the wedding, even before meeting Gede, and board an airplane to Bali. For comic relief, Georgia’s handsome French pilot boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo) is unctuously supportive. Yes, a man can be too supportive and smother all the frisson.
Clooney and Roberts dominate the screen and they definitely have bickering Benedict and Beatrice type chemistry. We’ve witnessed their on-screen chemistry before in “Ocean’s Eleven.” Dever also shines in a role that doesn’t demand she be a victim of horrific crimes (as in “Unbelievable” and “Dopesick”). Her tragedy is her parents and she’s the adult in the familial threesome. As the object of Lily’s affection, Bouttier doesn’t quite hold the screen as well as Clooney, Roberts and Dever. It’s hard to see any sparks flying between them. While Ol Parker and Daniel Pipski’s script and Parker’s direction does show us aspects of Bali culture with what seems to someone who has never been to Bali, sensitivity, and cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland does show us postcard perfect Bali, the screen is dominated by Clooney, Roberts and Dever. Even France-born Indonesian Bouttier is sidelined here. And having a White person’s story play out in a predominately non-White region isn’t new. It is all too familiar.
There are aspects which seems unintentionally laughable. There are white walls with more tan than Dever so I wonder how one could be snorkeling in a bikini so long that the boat leaves without them and not suffer a debilitating back sunburn. I mean like a Stage 2, cancer-is-coming sunburn. It would seem more sensible to wear a wetsuit or at least a rash guard. If you haven’t heard, there’s a Slip-Slop-Slap campaign in Australia and New Zealand from the 1980s that has helped decrease incidents of skin cancer.
In the US, rash guards have also been so normalized that they are sold at the Gap and through Landsend. That’s why I feel that not only has the film industry not caught up, but also there’s a slight feeling of the male gaze in the costuming of Dever and Lourd. The men, both Clooney and Bouttier, wear modest swimming trunks. With Clooney, that matches the modesty in Roberts’ swimwear, and may be considered age appropriate, but there are plenty of skimpy swimwear for men that could have served as a balanced view of flesh-baring. I didn’t see any men in such barely their trunks in the one screening I viewed of this film, and yet I’ve seen men, even in the 1990s on Venice Beach, in itty-bitty swimming trunks. I don’t think men in skimpy beachwear would have served this film well, but I also think that means the bikinis worn by Dever and Lourd were out of place, especially if they expected to cavort with dolphins.
You might be thinking that things are different in Bali and you might be right in terms skin cancer awareness. I’ve never been there and I don’t know about their skin cancer prevention campaigns. You also might think, well, but at least a big budget Hollywood film is giving to the local economy of Bali, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. While this film might make you want to head over to Bali, the principle filming was in Queensland, Australia. Just a six-hour flight away, but far enough that the dollars aren’t being seen in Bali.
I don’t really take issue with the portrayal of the dolphins in the film. I too would love to swim with dolphins (but I would be in a wetsuit). Just in case, you aren’t aware of general attitudes toward interactions, one should not approach dolphins in the wild. In Hawaii, there are laws against this as there are in Australia.
Knowing that “Ticket to Paradise” was filmed in Australia, doesn’t preventing me from irrationally wanting to visit Bali now, but I’m not convinced that seaweed farming is as idyllic as portrayed here. From what I know about farmers via my mother’s family who raised tomatoes and cucumbers on a truck farm in San Diego, farmers spend most of the year worrying about the weather, pests and market prices. They rise early, work hard and when the harvest is finally in, party hard before starting the anxiety cycle again.
Overall, “Ticket to Paradise” might sell you on a vacation to Bali and the supposed carefree life in Bali, particularly on a seaweed farm, but as a film, it’s little more than a cool breezy vehicle to showcase the comedic chemistry between Clooney and Roberts. It enjoyable, but still stuck in a White person’s fantasy genre where the locals are wise guides to nature and standing at the sidelines.