Review: ‘Leave the World Behind’ (2023), starring Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, Kevin Bacon, Farrah Mackenzie and Charlie Evans

December 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mahershala Ali, Myha’la, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke in “Leave the World Behind” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Leave the World Behind” (2023)

Directed by Sam Esmail

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York state, the sci-fi/dramatic film “Leave the World Behind” (based on the 2020 novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, one Latina and one Asian person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of people in a quiet Long Island neighborhood have different reactions when they find out that they are experiencing some kind of apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “Leave the World Behind” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and apocalyptic dramas that leave room for elements of mystery.

Charlie Evans and Farrah Mackenzie in “Leave the World Behind” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The apocalyptic drama “Leave the World Behind” isn’t really about any faraway, unknown enemies responsible for the attack. It’s more about how people respond to a crisis when they think enemies are closer to home. The movie’s story might frustrate viewers who want a more definitive ending, but “Leave the World Behind” is supposed to be an observational commentary on how people can have very different reactions if they think they are experiencing an apocalypse.

Written and directed by Sam Esmail, “Leave the World Behind” is based on Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name. It’s a mostly suspenseful movie that occasionally drags and gets repetitive in some areas when it becomes obvious that certain characters are stuck being where they are during a massive cyberattack that sends things into chaos. Viewers will get more satisfaction from watching “Leave the World Behind” if they don’t expect the movie to answer the question of how the cyberattack happened. It’s more important to see “Leave the World Behind” for what it is: an exploration of why the characters say and do the things they do during this attack.

“Leave the World Behind” begins by introducing the four-person family whose weekend vacation is disrupted by this mysterious catastrophe. Upper-middle-class spouses Amanda Sandford (played by Julia Roberts) and Clay Sandford (played by Ethan Hawke) live in New York City with their two children: 16-year-old Archie Sandford (played by Charlie Evans) and Rosie Evans (played by Farrah Mackenzie), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. Clay wakes up one morning to find out that Amanda has spontaneously rented a luxury vacation home on New York’s Long Island for the family to have a getaway weekend.

Amanda, who is an ad agency executive, is domineering and has a prickly personality. Early on the movie, she tells Clay one of the main reasons why she wants to have this getaway trip: “I hate people.” Clay, who is a book author, is friendly and easygoing. Amanda tends to think the worst of people, while Clay is much more open-minded and optimistic.

Archie and Amanda are generally well-behaved adolescents, but they have their occasional bratty or rebellious moments. Archie spends a lot of time playing video games, while Amanda is currently obsessed with watching all of the episode of the sitcom “Friends” in chronological order. Amanda is generally more curious than Archie is, but she is also more high-strung and more likely to get agitated.

When the Sandfords arrive at the house, which is near a beach, things seem to be going very well. Rose does some grocery shopping at a nearby store and notice a man in the parking lot. He’s stocking his truck with a lot of water and canned goods, as if he’s preparing for an emergency. Viewers later find out that this man is a contractor named Danny (played by Kevin Bacon), who is indeed a “doomsday prepper.”

It isn’t long before bizarre thngs start to happen. The Sandfords are at a beach that is fairly crowded when an oil tanker slowly heads toward the beach and then crashes on the beach. Luckily, no one on the beach gets hurt, but it appears to be a ship that got there on its own, since no one is inside the ship. The beach patrol employees have no answer for this weird incident.

Later, when the Sandfords are back at the house, Amanda notices that there is no longer any WiFi service and phone service in the house. Clay and Amanda also notice a mother deer and her kid in the house’s backyard. As already shown in the trailers for “Leave the World Behind” the Sandfords will be seeing a lot more deer in the near future. Observant viewers will notice that the appearances of groups of animals are supposed to be connected to the high-pitched noises that the people in the movie end up hearing.

Later that night, sometime after midnight, the Sandfords get some unexpected visitors, who knock at the front door. The kids are asleep, so Amanda and Clay open the door and find two strangers who are dressed like they just came from a formal event: George “G.H.” Scott (played by Mahershala Ali) politely introduces himself and his daughter Ruth (played by Myha’la, also known as Myha’la Herrold), who’s about 18 or 19 years old. (In the “Leave the World Behind” book,” Ruth is G.H.’s wife.)

G.H. says he’s sorry for showing up unannounced so late at night, but he explains that he’s the owner of the house. G.H. explains that he and Ruth were attending a symphony concert in New York City, which is experiencing a sudden blackout. They live in a 14th-floor apartment, but G.H. has a bad knee and would have to walk up a flight up stairs to get to the apartment, since the building’s elevator isn’t working during the blackout. Instead, they decided to drive to their Long Island home and spend the night there.

Amanda knows that she communicated by email with the house’s owner, but she never saw a photo of him before she rented the place. Her immediate reaction is to be suspicious. She expresses doubt and surprise that G.H. owns the house. G.H. later mentions that he’s a financial manager and that he’s owned the house for the past 20 years,.

Amanda’s reaction has racial undertones, since Amanda is white, and the Scotts are African American. Amanda doesn’t say it out loud, but she finds it hard to believe that black people could own this house. She’s reluctant to let them into the house, but Clay is much more trusting and gracious and lets G.H. and Ruth inside to continue the conversation.

Amanda gets even more suspicious when she asks G.H. to show his photo ID to prove who he says he is, but G.H. says he left his photo ID in the jacket he was wearing at the symphony. In the chaos of the blackout, he left the jacket behind at the venue. To prove that he at least knows the house, G.H. uses keys to open a drawer, where he takes out an envelope of cash.

G.H. and Ruth offer to stay in the basement during this unexpected visit. As an apology and to make up for the inconvenience, G.H. offers to give Clay and Amanda $1,000 in cash, which is half of the cost that Amanda and Clay paid for the weekend rental. Amanda still doesn’t G.H. and Ruth, but Clay convinces her to accept this deal.

In a private conversation that Amanda has with Clay, she says that G.H. and Ruth could be servants of the house’s owner, and this unexpected visit could be a set-up for a robbery. Clay thinks she’s being too paranoid. Because there is no WiFi and no phone service in the house, the Sandfords have no way of verifying what G.H. is saying.

There’s a period of time, early on in “Leave the World Behind,” when the movie keeps viewers guessing if there will be some kind of confrontation between Amanda and the Scotts. Ruth has immediately picked up on Amanda’s hostility, which can easily be interpreted as racial hostility. In response, Ruth is abrupt and sarcastic in communicating with Amanda.

There’s also apprehension behind Ruth’s demeanor. G.H.’s wife/Ruth’s mother is an art dealer who is away on a trip to Morocco. G.H. have been unable to reach her because of the blackout. And now, they’ve found out that there’s no communication services in their Long Island hom.

However, the WiFi service briefly comes back when Amanda gets news alerts on her phone that say there are cyberattacks happening. But the alerts soon disappear, and she wonders if she imagined what she saw. However, electricity still works in the house, and the TV news is showing that the United States in under a cyberattack from unknown sources. It isn’t long before the house loses electricity too.

Meanwhile, more strange things keep happening, some of which are revealed in the trailers for “Leave the World Behind.” Some of the movie’s visual effects look credible, while other visual effects look too much like the computer-generated imagery that it is. The Scotts and the Sandfords soon find out that the cyberattack has caused planes to crash. Although there are external forces that are causing the widespread disaster, the movie takes a very intimate look at how the some of the story’s main characters cause their own types of internal disarray through mistrust and fear.

“Leave the World Behind” also poses a familiar question that’s often found in stories where people are in life-or-death situations: “Will someone help strangers in need, or will someone only be concerned with helping loved ones?” The movie also shows how, when faced with the possibility of death, how people might see life differently.

The cast members’ performances aren’t award-worthy, but they are competent and believable. “Leave the World Behind” doesn’t follow the usual formula of having a warm-hearted mother for a family in crisis. Amanda is downright unpleasant and isn’t afraid to admit it. However, there are a few moments when some cracks appear in Amanda’s hard shell of a personality. These moments are among the best in “Leave the World Behind,” which isn’t about strong heroics during a crisis but what happens when people during a crisis feel they are their most vulnerable.

Netflix released “Leave the World Behind” in select U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023. The movie premiered on Netflix on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Ticket to Paradise’ (2022), starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts

October 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Julia Roberts and George Clooney in “Ticket to Paradise” (Photo by Vince Valitutti/Universal Pictures)

“Ticket to Paradise” (2022)

Directed by Ol Parker

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in Bali and briefly in the United States, the comedy film “Ticket to Paradise” features a cast of white and Asian characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A bickering, divorced American couple will go to great lengths to sabotage the wedding of their young adult daughter, who has decided to abandon plans for a law career in the U.S., so that she can marry a seaweed farmer in Bali, after a whirlwind courtship. 

Culture Audience: “Ticket to Paradise” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, because their chemistry on screen and skillful comedic performances are the best things about the movie.

Pictured seated in the middle: Kaitlyn Dever and Maxime Bouttier in “Ticket to Paradise” (Photo by Vince Valitutti/Universal Pictures)

“Ticket to Paradise” is every bit the predictable romantic comedy that it appears to be, but the on-screen chemistry and talent of stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts bring a lot of charm and appeal. The movie’s snappy banter enlivens the story. Having a skilled ensemble goes a long way in making “Ticket to Paradise” entertaining for viewers looking for a comedy that’s mostly lightweight but offers some emotional gravitas in addressing issues about family and forgiveness.

Directed by Ol Parker (who co-wrote the “The Ticket to Paradise” screenplay with Daniel Pipski), “Ticket to Paradise” gets straight to the bickering between ex-spouses David Cotton (played by Clooney) and Georgia Cotton (played by Roberts), who have been divorced for about 20 years. The movie’s opening scene shows David and Georgia explaining their bitter marital breakup, as they board separately on a plane flight to go to their daughter’s graduation from law school at an unnamed university in the United States.

David and Georgia got married 25 years ago, and their marriage lasted only five years. Their only child is a daughter named Lily (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who is now in her mid-20s. Because Lily’s parents divorced when she was too young to ever remember when her parents were happy together, all she has known is that her parents can’t stand to be in the same room together. Therefore, this family reunion is filled with tension, especially when David and Georgia are forced to sit together at events such as this graduation ceremony.

Of course, people who’ve seen enough romantic comedies already know that David and Georgia’s arguments and insults are indications that they have a love/hate relationship with a lot of unresolved issues. Those issues are eventually revealed in the movie in moments when David and Georgia show some emotional vulnerability. But in the meantime, they act like jealous and competing ex-spouses for most of the story.

After graduating from law school, Lily and her best friend Wren Butler (played by Billie Lourd), who was in the same law school graduating class, take a vacation together in Bali. (“Ticket to Paradise” was actually filmed in Australia.) Wren is a party-loving bachelorette who is loyal to Lily and has very wry observations about life. While swimming in the ocean one day, Lily and Wren find out that they swam too far away from the shore and are stranded.

But lo and behold, a handsome young man suddenly appears in a boat and comes to their rescue. He is a seaweed farmer named Gede, pronounced “ga-day” (played by Maxime Bouttier), and he’s about the same age as Lily and Wren. Gede and Lily lock eyes immediately in the way that future couples do in movies where two people are experiencing infatuation at first sight. Lily, Gede and Wren then hang out at a local bar. And the next you know, Lily has spent the night at Gede’s place.

During this fateful vacation, Gede shows Lily what he does for a living. The simplicity of his lifestyle, the beauty of Bali, and Gede being in tune with nature all have a profound impact on Lily. Lily says to Gede, “I am so out of balance.” He gazes at her lovingly and replies, “I’ll help you find it.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“Ticket to Paradise” then fast-forwards to an unspecified time, which appears to be just a few months later. David and Georgia are shocked to find out that Lily is getting married in Bali to a seaweed farmer whom Georgia and David never met. Lily has also announced that she’s given up her plans to become a lawyer and will live permanently in Bali with her future husband. The wedding date has already been set.

David and Georgia might not agree on many things, but they do agree that Lily is making a huge mistake by getting married to someone she’s known for a short time and by giving up a law career. Georgia and David decide to sabotage the wedding. And somehow, David and Georgia think they might be able to convince Lily to stay in the United States and not to give up her law career too.

But on the plane flight to Bali, more discord happens when David and Georgia are dismayed to find out they have seats next to each other. It’s a problem that is temporarily resolved when a chatty and lonely passenger named Beth-Ann (played by Genevieve Lemon) offers to switch her seat so that she can sit between David and Georgia. And what a coincidence: The flight’s pilot captain just happens to be Georgia’s good-looking and very attentive French boyfriend Paul (played by Lucas Bravo), who’s about 20 years younger than she is.

The hijinks that happen in the movie are pure rom-com fluff that rely on a lot of convenient coincidences that force Georgia and David to spend as much time together as possible. Gede’s large family is very welcoming to Lily and her family, but “Ticket to Paradise” doesn’t give much realistic insight into the dynamics between Gede’s family members, who are all presented as happy people who all get along with each other. Gede’s father Wayan (played by Agung Pindha) is a bit of a jolly prankster, while Gede’s mother Suli (played by Ifa Barry) and sister Losi (played by Cintya Dharmayanti) are very pleasantly generic characters.

Even though Gede and Lily’s wedding is the main event in “Ticket to Paradise,” and the movie shows some aspects of Balinese culture, the story really isn’t about Lily, Gede or life in Bali. It’s about the antics of David and Georgia, who both can sometimes be selfish and cruel when it comes to getting what they want. Georgia and David have some zinger insults that they verbally hurl at each other and sometimes at other people, as well as some slapstick moments that will make people chuckle out loud when David and/or Georgia make fools out of themselves.

Even though some of the movie’s plot developments are a bit gimmicky, one of the most naturalistic-looking and best scenes is when David and Georgia get drunk while playing beer pong with Gede, Lily and Wren. Lily is embarrassed by her parents, of course, but it’s a scene where you can tell that the cast members genuinely had a fun time filming it. The mega-watt smiles and laughter of Roberts and Clooney have a joy that’s very infectious when watching this scene. It’s an example of how good choices in casting can make all the difference in getting a scene to shine in all the right ways.

Dever and Lourd also have believable chemistry together as best friends, even though the movie doesn’t give Wren much to do but react to a lot of zaniness that happens with Lily and her parents. Bouttier is perfectly fine as Gede, who has a few good scenes in showing that he’s smarter than David thinks he is. Bravo has a few well-performed comedic moments as Georgia’s devoted lover Paul. Predictably, David is jealous of Paul, but David tries not to let it show. Meanwhile, Georgia is jealous of David because she thinks that “daddy’s girl” Lily loves David more than Lily loves Georgia.

“Ticket to Paradise” has a breezy tone to it that never lets viewers forget that even with some emotional family baggage that’s brought up in the story, this movie is a romantic comedy, through and through. The movie’s ending will either make people roll their eyes in disbelief or smile with delight. And, if nothing else, even if some viewers don’t like the story presented in “Ticket to Paradise,” they can at least appreciate the gorgeous cinematography of the tropical settings showcased in the movie, which lives up to the “paradise” part of the title.

Clooney has played lovable grouches many times before, while Roberts is doing another version of the sassy cynicism that she’s done for many of her movie characters. But that’s what audiences want to see in this movie, and “Ticket to Paradise” delivers in that regard. Whether people like or dislike this type of romantic comedy, it’s hard to deny that Clooney and Roberts tap into some realistic mixed emotions about ex-spouses who mishandle their unresolved feelings, resulting in some cringeworthy moments intended to make people laugh.

Universal Pictures will release “Ticket to Paradise” in U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released in Australia and several countries in Europe, Asia and South America in September 2022.

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