Two Tickets to Paradise
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: R – For Language Including Crude Sexual References, And Some Drug Use
Film Length: 91 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 – Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Review Date: September 16, 2010
Mark: “I’m running out of illusions, and I’m not going into the New Year a loser!”
Billy: “Wow – we got nothing going for us!”
Jason: “We got beer left!”
Think about the number of road movies that have been made through the years. Now think about the number that you have seen. I am almost certain everyone reading this would need more than one hand to count them all. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the zany (Cannonball) to the dramatic (Thelma & Louise), and from the horrific (Joy Ride) to the comedic (Plains, Trains, and Automobiles) – almost every genre, style, mode of transportation, and purpose for the journey has been imagined. So what makes this type of film so popular for writers, directors, and actors to sink their teeth into? And why do we, the audience, seem to enjoy following filmmakers as they journey back to that particular well? Not all ‘road movies’ do well, and some have been exhausting wastes of celluloid, but if I had to boil the appeal down to something simple, I would say that the journey undertaken in road movies is, not surprisingly, the visual symbol or embodiment of the trial, troubles, tribulations, and triumphs experienced by the characters we follow. The best of the road movies use the paradigm of the journey – riding together in close-quarters, experiencing ups and downs collectively, using the time that abounds as they move from ‘A to B to C’ to peel back their lives through conversation, conflict, and conviviality, to reveal the change the character want, need, or must have thrust upon them as they progress from their emotional or spiritual ‘A to B to C’.
The Film: 4 out of 5
Two Tickets to Paradiseintroduces us to three close friends from high school – each having followed different paths since their days of glory – but each finding themselves at a time in their lives, and at a place of contemplation, that they did not expect to be in - and largely resist. Mark’s (John C. McGinley) glory days were playing football, Billy’s (D.B. Sweeney) glory days were playing guitar in a local popular band, and Jason’s (Paul Hipp) were as the valedictorian. These three disparately ‘talented’ souls have faced the uphill walk of life’s efforts to normalize and conform; their glory-day flames flickering out from injury and gambling, career mediocrity and risk-aversion, and the shadow of an overbearing family.
When issues come to a head - Mark’s gambling forces his wife to leave him (taking with her the son he adores), Billy’s life splinters when he discovers his wife (The Cutting Edge’s Moira Kelly) cheating, and Jason’s luck at winning two tickets to the College Football Championship Bowl, the biggest game of the year – Billy excitedly suggests leaving the woes of their miserable moment behind them. He suggests taking a trip from their gritty Pennsylvanian hometown down to Florida to catch the game. It doesn’t take too much to convince these friends that something better lay on the road, so they load up the car with beer and enthusiasm and set-off to stop their inner flames from dying out completely.
The best road movies seek to do two things; introduce the audience to characters that matter, and take them through events that move us and make us laugh. Two Tickets to Paradise, actor D.B. Sweeney’s directorial debut, manages to succeed on both counts. Originally titled Dirt Nap, and released on the festival circuit, Two Tickets became something of a festival darling, garnering 7 festival awards (including Best Director Boston International Film Fest and Best Narrative Feature Film Savannah Film Festival). The film, made independent of studio financing, takes its time and builds its characters and story with the genuinely relatable blend of drama and comedy. The relatively shoestring budget, make for approximately $1.8MM, belies what we see, which in essence is a well-produced movie with a budget much higher. Sweeney himself fronted the lion’s share of the budget only securing additional financial support as the actual shoot approached.
The characters drive the story rather than the story driving the characters, and the film lives on the power of the performances, the natural script, and the dynamic that exists between the three principle players. There are some extraordinary scenes of dramatic weight, especially from the underrated talents of John C. McGinley, whose first scene with his father describes in a few motions and unsaid words what several scenes of exposition could not. D.B. Sweeney, directing himself, remains the lighter-hearted element of compunction, capturing the pangs of regret over the path not taken (or never genuinely available), with a sophomoric lack of grounding. Again, in a single scene – where his character awkwardly encounters his wife with her lover, succinctly aggregates his character in a moment of distraction, when the lover recognizes Billy from his band days and gushes a little before realizing that he is the husband. For a moment, Billy happily accompanies the adultery accomplice down memory lane with a childish grin, before snapping back to reality and walking out the door. It is a genuinely funny scene but important scene.
As director and co-writer, D.B. Sweeney can be proud of what he has accomplished. Though the narrative can be faulted with a few minor missteps, including a moment or two of slapstick which feel out of place from the more dialogue-based comedy, the journey we take with this set of odd, quirky, and real characters, is rewarding. The dialogue and its delivery are often entirely relatable regardless of what country or era you may have grown up in. The quick-fire dynamic between a group of friends who either assume or are saddled with archetypal roles; the leader, the clown, the butt of the jokes, exists onscreen much as many of you likely find when you gather with the guys you know all-too-well.
Two Tickets to Paradiseis for all intents and purposes a hopeful fairy-tale wrapped around a road movie that holds good measures of drama and comedy. Hearing from the director, producer, co-writer and star of his passion to get this film off the ground and made, investing well over half the budget himself, taking the film’s idea to studios but deciding to go it alone in order to preserve the integrity of the characters he and his co-writer Brian Currie created, reminds that this film is the epitome of a labor of love. The roughness around some of the edges and occasional foibles be darned – the film is a joy to watch and leaves you with a smile.
The Video: 3.5 out of 5
Presented on DVD with its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 preserved, the image quality on this release is not the best. Using a 16mm negative film format, the image is flush with a rather pervasive softness, imprecision and lack of clarity that gives the film a raw feel and secures the independent film look (which this film is of course), but does seem somewhat too unpolished (I do not believe DNR has been applied to any real extent, thankfully).
The opening of the film is muted as we are introduced to Mark’s character visiting his aged and unwell father in hospital before he calls in a bet from a payphone in a grey alleyway. Before the road trip begins, the colors are colder, but once on the trip, colors and scenes become warmer, trending away from the cooler whites, of-whites, greys, and bluer hues. The palette of the film suits the story being told.
The Sound: 3.5 out of 5
Paramount Pictures presents Two Tickets to Paradise with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 surround sound option. The sound isn’t immersive and the dialogue in the center channel not as crisp as you might expect, but again, given the tight budget and filming conditions (and the ADR work required in some scenes), this imperfection isn’t entirely unexpected. The music in the film is where the strength of the audio experience comes alive, with a great selection of songs and poignant at times score from John Nordstrom. I do wish, however, that the audio mix on this DVD release favored the surrounds and bass more, especially when the music is dominating the moment.
The Extras: 3.5 out of 4
Feature commentary by director D.B. Sweeney: I recommend watching this film at least once with the director’s commentary. Sweeney fleshes out the dynamic of crafting an independent film, working with a solid cast, and working within the constraints of a limited budget. Hearing how portions of the film were filmed in my (now) home state of North Carolina and how the production of the film scrimped and scraped to accomplish more than its budget alone could ever have provided were a real treat. There’s tenacity in how this film got made, driving an even greater appreciation for this film (and all film’s made earnestly from the wallets and hearts of dedicated filmmakers).
Deleted Scenes (4:16): Five deleted scenes, including a great conversation about contemplating great figures who accomplished great things before their mid-thirties while the Billy feels like he hasn’t accomplished anything, and others introducing us to Jason’s overbearing mother.
Outtakes (5:36): A fun set of forgotten lines, challenges with child actors, and actor pranks
Alternate Trailers Scenes: Included are an alternate trailer for the film under the title Dirt Nap, and one for the film with its final title.
I was not expecting to like Two Tickets to Paradise as much as I did. I wasn’t expecting to be able to relate to this generation of American men as they reflect on who they are, and where they are in life. The characters, however, connect – with each other and with me, and for some reason the moments of humor, drama, silliness, and bizarre tangents of wisdom (see Ed Harris in a great cameo), conspire to work. The film hits the major road movie milestones, and a heightened level of familiarity with the predicaments settles in, but beyond the parameters of the routine road signs, it is these characters living these lives that make the journey worth taking.
Director Sweeney handles the duties behind the camera solidly, framing scenes to capture performances within, and purposes of a scene with the hand of a more experienced director. In the end though it is the collaboration of fine actors and a great script that exude the simple complexity of lives half-lived that make Two Tickets to Paradise a surprising and delightful find.
Overall Score 4 out of 5