The Guilt Trip pairs Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mother-son pair on a road trip full of personal discovery and multi-generational comedy antics. The film was directed by feel-good movie regular Anne Fletcher (The Proposal and 27 Dresses) who also works as a Hollywood choreographer and directed the original Step Up installment.
Fletcher’s resume isn’t likely to provide encouragement for cinema fans hoping to see Rogen take Streisand for a ride through his usual Apatow-like dramedy stylings. Still, with a pair of fan-favorite actors leading the production, the film was positioned to bring in a wider viewership than Fletcher’s recent romantic-comedy efforts. Does The Guilt Trip manage to break from a relatively standard setup and present a comedic-drama with plenty of laughs and surprises as well as worthwhile dose of heart?
Even though the storyline is inspired by a real-life trip that screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) shared with his own mother, the film is a very formulaic misadventure – one that relies heavily on the odd-ball pairing of Rogen and Streisand. This isn’t to say that The Guilt Trip is a bad film, it’s not, but it habitually follows in the footsteps of countless other dramedy films focused on obsessive parents and their young adult children who are adrift in the real world. While the generational disconnect definitely delivers some fun and endearing moments, The Guilt Trip meanders from one goofy scenario to the next – and rarely offers anything fresh.
Andrew Brewster (Rogen), an organic chemist, has spent the last five years developing a quality (and environmentally friendly) cleaning solution but, without brand recognition and a memorable sales pitch, he can’t sell his product. On the verge of financial collapse, Andrew plans a cross country road trip, a last ditch effort to market the formula to corporate retailers (Costco, Ace Hardware, etc), but on the eve of his departure, he sees an opportunity to get his obsessive and overbearing mother off of his back – by reuniting her with a former boyfriend (who now resides on the other side of the country). Joyce (Streisand), unaware that she’s on a collision course with a past lover, sees the trip as an opportunity to spend time with her son as well as get to the bottom of his deep-seeded troubles with women. As the pair depart, to the sounds of a Middlesex book on tape, they begin a journey of personal realizations and long-kept secrets that test the fiber of their relationship.
As mentioned, there aren’t many unique moments in the film – as The Guilt Trip is entirely what potential viewers likely expect from the mostly formulaic mother/son road trip setup – but this doesn’t mean that the film isn’t enjoyable. Most scenes, which are less laugh-out-loud funny than comparable moments in similar onscreen endeavors, make up for any deficiencies with solid (albeit restrained) performances from Rogen and Streisand. Aside from a few quick cameos, most notably Brett Cullen as charming steak house expert Ben Graw, supporting characters are gone in a flash – putting a lot of pressure on the two leads to carry the film.
Fortunately, the stars enjoy a charming chemistry that (often) puts Streisand center stage – with Rogen relegated to competent reactions and support. Streisand fans should appreciate the veteran actress as Joyce, with plenty of endearing (and screwy) moments; however, Rogen fans might be underwhelmed by the actor’s restraint this round – especially viewers hoping to see his usual improvisational banter (a skill that rocketed Rogen into Hollywood’s dramedy spotlight). The Guild Trip also stumbles when things get heavy – especially in outright arguments or overly-sentimental revelations about life, love, and happiness. Whether Fletcher/Fogelman filmmaking choices are to blame or a less successful dramatic Rogen/Streisand dynamic (compared to their respective comedy scenes), some of the turning-point character exchanges fall a bit flat.
Underwhelming overarching character beats are further hampered by the amount of locations and one-note side characters in The Guilt Trip. It’s a road trip film, so understandably the plot needs to progress from one place to the next but after Andrew and Joyce depart, the characters never spend more than five minutes in a single setting (with one exception). As a result, the movie often comes across as a combination of average gag setups or on-the-nose sequences designed to “say” something about the characters. In either case, once the movie races past the punchline or reveals an unknown fact about one of the two main players, it moves on to the next scene – with little or no time to actually develop (or enjoy) a successful idea.
Similarly, few of the larger plot threads established in the movie are ever resolved – making Guilt Trip‘s investment in ridiculous side stories all that more frustrating. Joyce spends a lot of time contemplating her son’s inability to maintain a serious longterm relationship but, throughout the film, various interactions only convolute Andrew’s backstory with bland trauma that isn’t used beyond the moment at hand (and never pays-off once unearthed). It’s not that every single problem in a character’s life needs to be resolved in a ninety-five minute movie but the most important themes (and most engaging elements) are outright abandoned in favor of sub-par comedy set pieces.
The Guilt Trip isn’t a total misfire, it just doesn’t do much to stray outside of Fletcher’s wheelhouse – delivering an average but unremarkable comedy offering with enough heart to make up for missed laughs. Fans hoping to see Rogen pull Streisand into a more obscene series of hijinks will likely be underwhelmed, since The Guilt Trip actually accomplishes the opposite task – resulting in a more subdued variation of Rogen. It’s a harmless mix of humor and sentiment, worthy of at-home viewing, but Guilt Trip is hardly worth an actual trip to the local theater.
If you’re still on the fence about The Guilt Trip, check out the trailer below:
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The Guilt Trip is Rated PG-13 for language and some risque material. Now playing in theaters.