In an age of Netflix rom-coms, does giving top-billing to the combined powers of Julia Roberts and George Clooney move the needle? It may not move at the box office but surely it’s worthy of note, next to a generation of would-be talents who come and go but will never be fixtures of movie-making like the celebrity stars who came before them. The last Clooney anyone saw was the Coen Brother’s Hail Caesar back in 2016. Yeah, it was that long ago. One of the most classical-Hollywood-beautiful men in modern movies, Clooney has spent the last several years behind the camera on middling movies. A right-sized temporary solution is to cast him opposite of Julia Roberts, whom has been missing from the silver screen herself for over four years, working in television. The idea is, when the domain of romantic films are filled with unknown actors, the chemistry of a star-powered friendship is enough to necessitate a movie.
That’s not to say the film departs from any pre-established formulas, fits into the present model of gamified high-concept romance, or is anything larger than an easy-going destination wedding picture. It’s only that, in fact. Set in Bali and shot on coastal Australian islands, it’s a breezy-cool automatic construction of a movie.
What happens is that Roberts and Clooney play a divorced couple who want to disrupt plans when their daughter, played by Kaitlyn Dever, sets out to marry a Balian seaweed farmer played by a flatly-affected-but-semi-charming Maxime Bouttier. It’s simple stuff from director Ol Parker who wrote on Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (2018) and makes the same sort of movie as that without any of the songs.
There’s always a matter of unexamined privilege in these sorts of rom-coms. The film says Dever’s character has graduated college — confusing because she says she’s going into law but the movie makes it very clear it wasn’t law school, and also she very much seems not to be going into law, but on permanent vacation — and immediately upon graduating, she goes on an exotic trip with her rule-breaking best friend who is always kind of tipsy and adds very little to the movie but helps explain the vacation. Likewise, Roberts character has an interim boyfriend of a suave French flight attendant who is just a figure for the old couple to romantically undue.
It always works when the drama is about Roberts and Clooney on-screen. It’s hard to feel anything when the film is about anything else, even including them in other story beats. Clooney does work as an ideal movie girl-dad, best seen in The Descendants (2011). Roberts likewise is just reliable and great to see on any movie screen and in any movie. The film futzes around with lame ideas, a couple very obvious CG moments about animal bites (a ridiculous looking computer dolphin and a snake in another incident); it’s just weird that it happens twice. The divorced couple bickers their way back into mutual admiration while plotting a convoluted plan to ruin their daughter’s courtship. The scenic backdrop saves most of the plain series of highly expected events.
So, the film doesn’t have any curveball. It’s exactly what’s on the poster. Roberts and Clooney riffing off their real-life friendship with a weak script and a beautiful island setting behind them. You can’t help but hope they’re just having fun, having put in all the work, and having both done this a few times. That all their bad luck reads like rich people’s Cadillac Problems doesn’t really matter. You’re not here for conflict and interrogation. It’s empty-headed but that’s what these can sometimes be, that is exactly their function, to present something really clear and marketable about two people you just really want to see bickering, dancing, and finding each other again. Everyone is rich and gets what they want. Everything you think happens does happen, with no other turns, and a happy ending with no complications. Your mileage may vary but some of us just want to be on the beach that doesn’t make us old with some reliable stars after a long couple years.