The Guilt Trip (2012) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some risqué material
Running time: 95 min.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand
Small role: Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes, Casey Wilson, Colin Hanks, Brett Cullen, Nora Dunn, Adam Scott
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman
Review published July 4, 2013
I'm not what anyone would call a Barbra Streisand fan, and yet I must admit, whenever I see her in a film, I can't help but be impressed by how effortless her performance seems to be. If The Guilt Trip succeeds at all, it's in the belief that the two actors that are front and center are believable as doting mother and frustrated son, and even if the "road trip" premise is tired and the story itself isn't particularly deep, I can't deny that I found this mild-mannered comedy to be an amiable, breezy, and sometimes even affecting diversion.
Streisand (Little Fockers, Meet the Fockers) stars as Joyce Brewster, an older widowed woman who would like to find a new man in her life, but she loves her independence more. The closest thing she does have to a man in her life is her son Andy (Rogen, Take This Waltz), who is struggling to embark on a new enterprise to sell all-natural cleaning products to major retailers, though he too has struggled to find just the right woman for him. The film begins as Andrew is visiting Joyce's home in New Jersey, and, during a moment when she isn't nagging him and he isn't cranky with her, she reveals that, before she met his father, she had a her first true love with another man she has since lost touch with -- Andrew Margolis, the man Andy is named after. Thinking that this romance might be rekindled 40+ years later, Andy finds that there is an Andrew Margolis that matches her description currently living in San Francisco. Andy has a bold idea; he invites his mother, who has longed to spend time with him, on a cross-country road trip to various places where he can pitch his product, and he will surprise her with meeting the one-time man of her dreams in California.
The stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mother is a fairly common one in comedy, and much of the humor in The Guilt Trip comes from the oft-used notion that their sons are constantly being 'guilted' into doing what they say, much to their own chagrin. What could have been a very tired, one-note performance becomes rich and nuanced with Streisand in the role, even selling such a contrived scene as trying to eat a 50-ounce steak (Andy, a chemist, incorrectly deduces that 50 oz. equates to 4.5 lbs., though it might be argued that he may have included the fixins) dinner in a Texas diner's publicized challenge just to avoid having to pay for the meal if she doesn't need to.
Rogen, a comic actor that is often underrated in his ability to play for drama in the quieter scenes, is also likeable as the son, even though he spends a good deal of his time bickering with her until he finally cracks her good nature to the point that she's hurt by his words. And yet he is still likeable. One can see that Andrew is beaten down to exasperation not only in his business, but also in his inability to find someone to replace the childhood sweetheart he still thinks about over a decade later, and his mother's persistent unsolicited advice and constant chatter is pushing him to the point of a complete meltdown.
The Guilt Trip's screenplay is by Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, Fred Claus), who doesn't write as much for depth in themes, but does give the characters enough personality to give his lead actors something to work with, resulting in a handful of very good scenes that make this a worthwhile viewing if you like the stars. Anne Fletcher's (The Proposal, 27 Dresses) direction isn't flashy, but keeps the storyline grounded, even though there is a certain level of familiarity with the premise and predictability in the results. Luckily, the actors still manage to sell the characters well enough that we can laugh at their foibles, despite it occasionally descending into sitcom contrivances for laughs.
©2013 Vince Leo