‘Ticket to Paradise’ has all the narrative beats, tone, and vibe reminiscent of an early 2000s rom-com, an area with which one of the lead stars, Julia Roberts, is a master of. In fact, if this was made in the 90s, Julia Roberts would have played the daughter and not the mom and it would completely make sense. But it’s now 2022 and Julia Roberts is now playing the mom and there’s a sort of full circle that’s happening here. ‘Ticket to Paradise,’ afterall, is a classic family, generational romantic comedy about divorced parents who fly to Bali to sabotage their daughter’s wedding.
The first thirty or forty minutes of the film was a little difficult for me to get into: we know very little about the characters except that Julia Robert’s Georgia Cotton and George Clooney’s David Cotton are divorced and hate each other. They even choose to live in different parts of America just to ensure they don’t accidentally bump into each other but still do for their daughter Lily, played by Kaitlyn Dever. After her graduation from law school, Lily and her best friend Wren (played by Billie Lourd) take a trip to Bali and 37 days later, Georgia and David are rushing to Bali to stop Lily from marrying a man she met on the island.
Within the first ten minutes, the premise of the story as written above plays out and while Georgia and David’s relationship is firmly established, we know very little about Lily. We are immediately positioned, as the audience, to think that Georgia and David’s calls for a truce just to work together to sabotage their daughter’s wedding is cute or funny. Naturally, my instincts are also against the wedding because my natural inclination is to believe another white, western girl falls in love with a Balinese man (though Maxime Bouttier, who plays Gede, is very charming) and drops her privileged life for an exotic adventure in Asia. It also doesn’t help that the constant bickering of Georgia and David highlights toxic masculine behaviour – interrupting Georgia as she speaks, claiming ownership of ideas that Georgia just mentions, etc – that despite all of Clooney’s charms, it really irks me that his character is the typical toxic man.
Everything about the premise of the first thirty minutes just speaks of Western, imperialist attitudes that had me resisting the movie from the get-go. I didn’t like David nor did I have a good impression of Lily and I was so scared that they were going to make Bali feel exotic and fetishize it; turn the culture and their customs into a joke.
But the moment the movie is in full swing, as Georgia and David begin to put their plans of sabotaging the wedding into action, I started to notice something quite surprising and refreshing. The way ‘Ticket to Paradise’ frames the Balinese culture was done with so much love and respect. Never did they make a joke out of anything that represented Balinese. In fact, as the narrative unfolds, it positions the Balinese culture as sort of superior to western ideals as represented by both Georgia and David. The concept of the tight-knit Asian family is put in full display which perfectly contrasts the lack of communication between David, Georgia, and Lily. Lily’s own decision to live in Bali stems from a need to harmonize with herself and she can do this in the island with Gede and it reflects back on David and Georgia’s own failures in their relationship, which is saddled with the pressures of western ideas of success.
There’s even a subtle touch of the use of the Balinese language. Every time Georgia and David are in a scene and people speak in Indonesian, there are no subtitles. There’s only one scene where this happens but it is used narratively to underline David’s mistake. Another scene involves Gede and his parents having a discussion about the wedding but there are no Americans in the scene and what they talk about, once again, shows off the beautiful family relationship of this Balinese family.
Never in the movie do I feel that there is a joke being made at the expense of the Asians. In fact, the movie subversively puts forward the notion that Georgia and David are the villains of the film despite its tone and genre. The bait and switch occurs because Georgia and David are played by Julia Roberts and George Clooney, both huge global superstars. Of course, coming in you’d think they were the heroes of the story. That mere fact is why I was resisting the film at the start but the moment the true nature of the movie was revealed, I began to enjoy it.
It’s a classic family romantic comedy with a lot of important things to say – about marriage and parenting and life – and it surprised me at how it positions the Balinese culture as something ideal, if not more ideal, than those of western values.