By Lynn Venhaus
With their mega-watt star power and effortless charm, George Clooney and Julia Roberts are just so darn cute together that they make the high-concept rom-com “Ticket to Paradise” go down as easy as a fruity tropical drink while watching an island sunset.

“Ticket to Paradise” follows the formula of many personality-driven light-hearted escapes set in an exotic locale and depend on thorny romantic complications with an easy-going cast having fun with each other.

As a bitterly divorced couple, they team up and travel to Bali to stop their only daughter (Kaitlyn Devers) from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

In their fifth film together, Clooney and Roberts appear to be having a ball, even while pretending they hate each other’s guts. That fine line between love and hate, you know. They were college sweethearts and married for five years. Their house burnt down, and their relationship flamed out.

But they had a daughter, Lily, whom they dote on, and are forced to be together for those kind of family rituals like graduations and weddings. The ever-reliable Kaitlyn Dever plays recent law school graduate Lily, who is on a long holiday with her roommate and best friend Wren in Bali before embarking on real-world careers.

Party girl Wren is given some oomph by Billie Lourd, the late Carrie Fisher’s daughter. She’s mainly around to be supportive of her buddy, but it would have been nice for her to have a storyline too. She and Dever were both in “Booksmart,” and work well together here.

Roberts’ character, Georgia, an art gallery owner, is engaged to a handsome younger pilot, endearingly played by French actor Lucas Bravo (a delight in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” this past summer and on “Emily in Paris.”) He’s a good sport, even as the butt of some jokes.

The lovestruck Lily throws everything into chaos when she breaks the news that she is engaged to an Indonesian seaweed farmer, Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a sweet and sincere islander she fell head over heels for – and is ready to build a life faraway from what she’s known. They make a cute, believable couple.

Bali is a stunning location with gorgeous sunsets, warm hospitality and a relaxed way of life. What’s not to love?

The parents are determined to sabotage the wedding, and unite to carry it out, but as expected, things aren’t going according to plan in the story by Ol Parker and script co-writer Daniel Pipski.

The parents have time for reflection and look back at their tattered relationship, which the two Oscar winners carry out well.

Maxime Bouttier, Kaitlyn Dever

It seems like a predictable patchwork of other rom-coms – a dash of “Crazy Rich Asians,” a touch of “Mamma Mia!”, a sprinkle of “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” and a smidge of “My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as a litany of Hallmark movies involving matrimony, but that doesn’t make it less palatable.

When you sign on for a romantic comedy, you know what’s ahead. This is a Mom movie – one you can take your mother too and not worry about salacious content. If it appeals to a certain demographic, so be it.

The pleasures here are enjoying the shimmering panoramic vistas in the south Pacific and two charismatic movie stars who are adorable when lighting up the screen. Their chemistry is so smooth that you’d watch them just sitting and talking to each other (at least I would).

The last movie they made, “Money Monster,” was a middling crime drama-thriller in 2016.  Clooney was a financial TV host and Roberts played his producer who are in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over the studio.

But their casting as Danny and Tess Ocean in the “Ocean’s” movies – 11, 12 and 13 — caught fire in that entertaining caper franchise. They first appeared in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which Clooney directed in 2002, an adaptation of game show impresario Chuck Barris’ cult memoir about being a CIA hitman.

Although capable of crafting fine characters in their legendary careers, they are well-suited for romantic comedies. After all, that’s where Roberts broke through (“Pretty Woman”) and had considerable box office power (“Notting Hill,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding, “Runaway Bride,” among them.) They have their dramatic cred – and Oscars to prove it, too.

The outtakes shown during the end credits seem unnecessary and rather silly, but other than that, it’s not a waste o’ time.

Ol Parker, best known for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” in 2018 and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2011, directed “Ticket to Paradise” with a light touch, careful to not make the proceedings too slapstick-y (but not above some goofy moments, like a dolphin attack and a snake bite).

He knows and respects his audience, and so do the lovable movie stars. If you are looking for a pleasant trifle to wile away a couple hours, “Ticket to Paradise” will amuse. It isn’t destined to become a classic but will stay in fans’ rotations.

“Ticket to Paradise” is a 2022 romantic comedy directed by Ol Parker and starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Kaitlyn Dever. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material, it runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. Opens in theatres on Oct. 21. Lynn’s Grade: B-.

By Lynn Venhaus

On stage, “Dear Evan Hansen” was a deeply personal and profoundly emotional experience, which the movie attempts to achieve through pared-down scenes that opt for intimacy.

When they ‘open up’ musical numbers just to expand the landscape, that’s when it becomes less effective. Those who connected with the musical because it struck a chord about belonging and understanding in a chaotic and often cruel social media age will find this a worthy adaptation.

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) has a severe social anxiety disorder, and his therapist wants him to write a daily affirmation letter. Because the anti-social and angry young man Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) snatched the letter, it is found in his possession after he commits suicide. His grieving parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) mistake it as one their troubled son wrote to his only friend and invite Evan to dinner. Instead of telling the truth and wanting to please, he keeps up the charade, which quickly spirals out of control. Suddenly, classmates who ignored him make him an internet star.

One drawback is that Evan’s self-deprecating humor, which worked so well on stage making the nerdy high school senior relatable, is missing.

The score, by golden boys Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, still resonates in a timely way, particularly after 18 months of dealing with a public health crisis that created even more distance between people.

While nothing can duplicate the live theater ‘feels,’ this adaptation has been thoughtfully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. I mean, how cynical do you have to be to resist sharing in the desire to matter?

The musical, which opened on Broadway in December 2016, won six of the nine Tony Awards it was nominated for in 2017, including Best Musical.

When I saw the national tour in November 2019 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, I was a puddle, crying through most of it. I figured that the movie would provoke the ugly cry reprise, so I brought plenty of tissues along, and while I teared up through key moments, it wasn’t the waterworks that happened while discovering the stage musical. Perhaps I am now too familiar with the songs, but when Heidi (Julianne Moore) sings “So Big/So Small” (Everybody in the Fox audience could be heard sniffling through it) it’s heart-breaking, and Ben Platt’s voice just prompts eyes to tear up during the ballads.

Of course, when you first hear that everything is based on a lie, it’s a ‘wait – what?’ reaction, but because people are comforted by the tall tales, leading Evan on a journey of self-discovery, most do not get all judgy—instead, investing in the story.

There are those who think exploiting a tragedy for personal gain is abhorrent, but I can see how and why it went south – all those insecurities, the desperation driving the falsehoods/fantasy, that awareness of being an outcast. There are so many gray areas of life that can’t be sorted into black and white, and this is one of them.

Director Steven Chbosky, who knows how to genuinely portray adolescents after helming “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Wonder,” taps into those socially awkward misfit feelings many people share but think they’re alone.

Pasek and Paul’s heartfelt and aching songs have won Tonys, an Oscar (for “La La Land”), Grammys and Emmys, and still pack an emotional wallop – even if they are stripped down renditions. “You Will Be Found” is the signature song that never wears out its welcome, offering a beacon of light in uncertain times.

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, directed by Stephen Chbosky.

Much has been written criticizing casting 27-year-old Ben Platt as the geeky isolated teenager. After all, he originated the role on Broadway, winning a Tony Award and much acclaim. This role is in his DNA, and he captures the emotional roller-coaster nature of the part. No one can convey the vulnerability, anxiety and yearning for acceptance better than he can.

Like Robert Preston as Harold Hill and Yul Brynner as the King of Siam, Platt will be defined by Evan Hansen for the rest of his life, no matter how many TV shows, movies and stage productions he does.

And if we’re talking age disparities, then one must mention John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing as high school students in “Grease,” and we could make a long list of examples.

I did not find him a weak link, and honestly had been worried about how he would look and fit the part on screen. Except for a bad curly hair choice, the de-aging process does not distract. I thought he was fine, and his touching interpretations of “Waving Through a Window,” “For Forever” and “Words Fail” remain the gold standard.

Colton Ryan, who was an understudy for Connor on Broadway, is strong as the black-clad hostile jerk who lashes out like a caged animal. His suicide leads to the school body creating “The Connor Project” in his honor, a benefit to re-open the Autumn Smile Apple Orchard and rename it for him.

The movie comes out during Suicide Prevention Month, and any awareness of mental health and the prevalence of young people taking their own lives is a good thing. The “if only” and “Woulda, shoulda, coulda” second-guessing is relentless after a tragedy – so the pro-active efforts of this film are appreciated.

The film was adapted by Steven Levenson, who won the Tony Award for the musical’s book, and he has altered the ending to make Evan more accountable for the mess he has created – but also shows him making amends.

Not sure why they switched the original dad character to a stepfather in Larry’s case, but Danny Pino fits as the work-and-success-obsessed guy married to Amy Adams’ Cynthia, who has provided a good life for his family but has become increasingly distant over the years.

Adams, whose experience singing includes the Disney film “Enchanted” and her breakthrough Oscar-nominated performance in “Junebug,” is earnest as a grieving mother who clings to any memento and memory of her fallen son. Evan has provided her with a lifeline, and in turn, he feels accepted.

Julianne Moore, another versatile actress, is a natural as Heidi Hansen, a hard-working single mom who tries her best to support her son’s therapy and his needs.

Kaitlyn Dever is a bright spot as Connor’s sister Zoe, Evan’s crush, who admits to not knowing her brother very well. Her song with Evan, “Only Us,” is handled well as a romance blossoms.

Other noteworthy supporting turns include Nik Dodani as tech whiz and Evan’s confidante Jared and Amandla Stenberg as the cheerful over-achiever and environmental activist Alana who spearheads The Connor Project..

Stenberg collaborated with Pasek and Paul on a new song for the film, “The Anonymous Ones,” which is an outstanding addition.

However, they have removed four songs from the original score, including the two moms’ duet on parenting, “Anybody Have a Map,” and that is a shame. However, listen closely to the marching band during the pep rally and you will hear that and “Good for You.” “Disappear” and “To Break in a Glove” were also cut.

“Dear Evan Hansen” remains a moving experience, a timeless message for today and a hard-fought journey on acceptance and healing.

Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Dever

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical drama directed by Steven Chbosky and starring Ben Platt, Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan and Amandla Stenberg. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive reference. The runtime is 2 hours, 17 minutes. It is out in theaters on Sept. 24. Lynn’s Grade: B+