Ticket to Paradise – 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 with Ticket To Paradise.

“When the pandemic hit, the things that I’d been writing at the time suddenly seemed completely irrelevant. 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,” says Parker (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, writer of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films) from his script with Daniel Pipski (co-executive producer, A Teacher).

Director Ol Parker, Julia Roberts and George Clooney on the set of Ticket to Paradise. Images courtesy of Universal Studios

In Ticket To Paradise George Clooney and Julia Roberts reunite on the big screen as exes David and Georgia who find themselves on a shared mission to stop their lovestruck daughter from making the same mistake they once made.

Inspired by a True Story

When Parker had lunch with producer Sarah Harvey – who previously worked with Parker on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – she pitched a story to him, inspired by the experiences of a divorced friend of hers.

Harvey 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.”

“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 centred 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.

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.”

Images courtesy of Universal Studios

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.

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.”

The Balinese Culture

Because the film is set in Bali, the filmmakers invested in extensive research, planning and consultancy to make sure the look and the feel of the film was right and that the film captured and respected the Balinese people and culture. “It was extremely important to us that we got not only the Balinese characters absolutely right, but the Balinese background, local culture and rituals absolutely right,” producer Tim Bevan says. “We had cultural advisors at the script level, and more importantly on the ground in Australia to make sure we were as precise as we could be in our accuracy.”