MOVIE PREVIEW – George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the two Oscar winners, star together again. Together, they want to stop their loving daughter from making the same mistake they did. A romantic comedy about the sweet surprise of second chances.
In recent years, major studio romantic comedies have become increasingly sparse. Dating as far back as the 1930s with the then-called ‘screwball comedy,’ the genre continued to evolve and flourish through the 2000s. Soon thereafter, though, romantic comedies slowly fizzled off the big screen. But director Ol Parker had a feeling that our global collective experience over the last few years had left audiences eager for a romcom rebirth.
The epidemic changed everything
“When the pandemic hit, the things that I’d been writing at the time suddenly seemed completely irrelevant,” Parker says. “The world had completely changed. I thought about what I wanted to write and work on next, and I landed on writing something that would make people happy—something joyous and optimistic. Romantic comedies bring a large audience together to collectively laugh with each other, and after a few tough years, that seemed like a beautiful thing to bring to the big screen.”
Parker would soon have lunch with producer Sarah Harvey, where she pitched a story to him, inspired by the experiences of a divorced friend of hers. “As she was talking, something clicked and I thought, ‘I know what this is, I know what direction it should go,” Parker says. “And it should star George Clooney and Julia Roberts.” It centered on a long-divorced couple who, in the process of trying to prevent their daughter from an impulsive marriage, discover that the spark that ignited their own relationship decades earlier may not be completely extinguished after all.
Harvey, who previously worked with Parker on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was excited to get the story off the ground. “Ol and I had wanted to work on something together again,” Harvey says. “So, after we came up with this idea together, we linked up with writer Daniel Pipski, whom we both knew, and once we had the script in a good place, we took it to Working Title before pitching it to Universal.”
Classics of the nineties
In the 1990s and 2000s, Working Title had been responsible for the most iconic blockbuster romantic comedies of that era, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, among many others. No company was a more perfect fit for this project. “Ticket to Paradise is a kickback movie for Working Title,” Working Title Co-Chairman Tim Bevan says. “Romantic comedies sort of went out of fashion for a while, and when Ol and Sarah pitched this to us, we thought, ‘Yeah, this is something we haven’t seen for a bit, and it’s worth revisiting because it feels like there’s a big audience for this sort of film.’ A bunch of smaller-budget romantic comedies have been made for streamers recently, but oftentimes the quality of writing, directing and performance doesn’t quite live up to what we remember romantic comedies to be. We felt that with our expertise, Ol’s knowledge, and hopefully getting two great actors and the material itself, we had a pretty good chance of delivering something really special.”
For co-writers Parker and Pipski, one idea remained central as they developed the screenplay. “When I talked to Dan about it, I told him a quote I remembered that said, ‘the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference,’” Parker says. “And the way we wrote our two leads was that they never have indifference. They’re always at each other and their energy of dislike toward each other is still passionate. Whereas, when the passion dies, that’s when the love dies. When we pitched it to Universal, we said it should feel like the sequel to a movie that was never made. It should be a couple that we already recognize as a couple.”
Clooney and Roberts were the “foundation”
George Clooney and Julia Roberts were that couple in Parker and Pipski’s minds throughout the writing process. Although the two stars have appeared in only a handful of films together—Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which Clooney directed, Money Monster and Ocean’s 11 and 12—their chemistry on screen together is undeniable and unforgettable. In the first draft of the script, in fact, the characters were named Julius and Georgia, as a nod to the two Oscar® winners. When the screenplay was complete, the filmmakers sent it to both Clooney and Roberts. “As a general rule of thumb, you should never mention another actor that you’re aiming for to costar when you send an actor a script in case you don’t get that other actor,” Parker says. “But in this case, I wrote to each of them and told them that I envisioned it with both of them. It was just very clear to me that it barely existed if it wasn’t them. I had no plan B.”
Bevan notes that it’s very rare, when he and his team are putting a movie together, to have it written for two of the most famous movie stars in the world. “Even rarer is having those two movie stars agree to do it, but for various reasons, it came together,” Bevan says. “If you’re going to make a romantic comedy, having two of the finest actors in the world to play the two leads is a pretty good start. They know each other so well; they’re very easy in each other’s company and they’re very entertaining together. We were able to harness the very jovial relationship and energy between them.”
Although the film is principally a comedy, it touches on deeper, universal themes of love, regret and the complex emotions of parenting children as they take their first real steps into adulthood. Unlike most romantic comedies, which are primarily about people in their 20s or early 30s, Ticket to Paradise explores love, in all its permutations, through a mature lens. “We’re in a space in the world right now where people want to see something funny and comforting,” Bevan says. “Romantic comedies have a bit of predictability about them, but the unexpected thing about this movie is that there are various relationships within the family and emotions within the family that audiences will find themselves being moved by.”
The filmmakers continued to develop the script and finalize casting, and simultaneously strategized on where best to make the film. It was not possible to shoot in Bali at the time because of COVID-19, so the filmmakers opted to find the optimal locations in Australia, which is home to producer Deborah Balderstone, who has a longstanding relationship with Working Title. “It was quite a good time for us to shoot this film because Australia had very limited COVID-19 numbers at the time,” Balderstone says. “We also had fantastic tax incentives, both the federal rebate and the state rebate, so that helped. The biggest challenge was just getting the production dates approved, but we got lucky enough to hold a fantastic local crew while we waited for the dates to firm up.” Later, once COVID restrictions eased in Bali, the production was able to shoot scenery there with a talented Balinese crew.
The location: Australia
As filming began off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in the Whitsunday Islands, Clooney and Roberts immediately proved why they were the only two people who could play this divorced duo. “The glorious thing about George and Julia, apart from them being geniuses at what they do, is that we’ve seen them onscreen and they’re also such good friends offscreen,” Parker says. “Everyone loves them and knows that about them. So, as an audience, we just feel like they’ve been a couple for years and we understand them as a couple, which brings that history and authenticity to these new characters. You can try to write the best script and set it in a beautiful place and hopefully point the camera in the right direction, but in the end, it’s going to stand or fall on the chemistry of the two leads, and, in the case of George and Julia, their chemistry is unmatched. It was the biggest gift to me—we were able to just turn on the camera and get out of the way.”
In fact, the two stars didn’t even do any official rehearsing before they began shooting. “George and Julia would arrive each day with what we call sides, which is the scene that we’re going to shoot that day,” Bevan says. “The first time we ran through a scene, they would just read it. Then they’d put the sides away and we’d almost always go for a take straight away and we’d almost never do more than three takes because they knew that the freshness of these lines would only come across if it was truly fresh. It was an absolute masterclass in comedic acting.”
Clooney and Roberts: the divorced couple
In Ticket to Paradise, George Clooney and Julia Roberts have reunited on-screen for the first time since 2016’s Money Monster. They portray David and Georgia, a divorced couple who can seemingly only agree on one thing: their love for their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever). So, when Lily meets and falls in love with a seaweed farmer named Gede (Maxime Boutier) on her graduation trip to Bali and tells her parents that she’s going to marry him, there’s only one thing they can do: team up to stop her from making the same mistake they made all those years ago.
It was rich comedic material for Clooney and Roberts to mine, and luckily, they both saw its potential. “Julia and I weren’t actively looking for a project to do together, but, of course, it was easy to say yes to a chance to work on another project with her,” Clooney says. “Ol Parker sent the script to both of us at the same time and said that he had written the parts for Julia and me. So, right after I read it, I called Julia and told her, ‘I’ll do it if you do it,’ and she said, ‘Well, I’ll do it if you will.’ And not long after that, we were heading to Australia.”
Roberts and Clooney’s history and friendship goes way back, and that friendship comes across in their work. “George and I have always had a good chemistry as friends,” Roberts says. “We approach our work in similar ways as well. I think we also get a lot of joy out of making each other laugh. So, each day was like a search for me to find how I could make George laugh. We both take an immense amount of care in creating an environment where people feel creative and happy at work. It brings out the best in everyone.”
Clooney adds: “I think the main reason that Julia and I work so well together is because we know how to make each other laugh. We have a similar sense of humor and just get each other, so it’s always sort of been that way for us. I hadn’t done a romantic comedy since One Fine Day, so, when I got this script, it felt like a perfect opportunity.”
The pair had a terrific experience working with director Parker. “What a brave person to take on directing two very good friends!” Roberts says. “He was always clear and kind and did not ever seem hesitant to tell us if he wanted something different from what we were doing, which I always respect. I was always overjoyed if I could hear Ol laughing at the end of a take.”
David still loves his wife
When David and Georgia team up in Bali with the shared goal of stopping their daughter, David starts to realize that he may not be as over Georgia as he’s been pretending to be. “David is confident about most things in his life, but the one thing he’s not confident about is where he stands with Georgia,” Clooney says. “In all the years since he and Georgia divorced, the fire is still there for him, but he’s convinced that Georgia has moved on and that he needs to make peace with that. She has a new boyfriend and a new life without him, and he doesn’t want to risk the hurt of being shut down or making things more complicated than they already are, and more than anything, he doesn’t want to compromise his relationship with his daughter Lily.”
Georgia’s main goal when she arrives in Bali is to make sure her daughter doesn’t make the same mistakes that she did. She doesn’t want Lily to lose out on opportunities because of an impulsive decision. And while Georgia has a new younger beau, Paul (Lucas Bravo), she starts to question that relationship after spending time with her ex-husband, too.
In a particularly memorable scene, David and Georgia get drunk and dance at a bar in the market. The dancing gets old-school (and over-the-top) pretty quickly. “The drinking scene was one I think everyone looked forward to,” Roberts says. “A big fun scene with a lot of the cast together. The dancing was discussed ahead of time but on the day, we did whatever sprang to mind in the moment. Fair to say, it was different each take. I recall being very hot and sweaty and tired by the end of the night. And my cheeks hurt from laughing at George!”
The happiest night of her life
Parker adds: “Shooting that was one of the most fun nights of my life. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen either of them be that loose and free onscreen. In that scene, they’re dancing as if they’re in college, and because George and Julia have been friends for so long, it’s very easy to get a sense that they were probably friends at that time of their lives. They probably danced like that and hung out like that when they were young, which makes it all the more fun and authentic.”
But it wasn’t only the dancing that had the leads laughing. The director describes the two as having joked with each other the entire time. “They also take the piss out of each other a lot, and they really love doing that onscreen,” Parker says.