THE GUILT TRIP
*** (out of 5)
December 19, 2012
Barbra Streisand as JOYCE BREWSTER
Seth Rogen as ANDREW BREWSTER
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
BY KEVIN CARR
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I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to “The Guilt Trip.” It’s not that I hate either Barbra Streisand or Seth Rogen as actors. It’s just that the movie didn’t look too appealing to me.
Maybe it cut a little too close to the bone. After all, don’t we all have a mom that gets on our nerves at some time? While my mother is really nothing like the characters played by Streisand, and I’m not really like the character Rogen plays, I can relate to having a sometimes tenuous relationship with her. Sure, I love my mother dearly – we all love our mothers dearly. It’s just in as an adult, a little mothering goes a long way.
Additionally, Streisand’s presence in this movie seemed to be a grand return for her to movies. I know she never really left, coming in for bit parts in the “Fockers” movies over the last decade or so. And let’s face it, she was never one to act in too many movies to begin with. Still, I was getting a real “Monster In Law” vibe from this movie. Fortunately, Streisand is better cast in this film than Jane Fonda was in that one, and Seth Rogen is easier to take on screen than Jennifer Lopez ever is.
“The Guilt Trip” is a nicely contained film about a soft-spoken inventor named Andy (Rogen) who learns that his mother (Streisand) is still carrying a torch for her first love. Since his father has been dead for decades, Andy decides to invite his mother on a cross-country road trip with him so he can sell a new cleaning product he invented. His final goal is to get her to San Francisco where she can be reunited with her old lover he tracked down.
The set-up is nothing too original. We’ve seen this kind of thing in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Road Trip” and “Due Date,” in which conflicting personalities are locked in a steel prison for hours in a trip across the country. What’s nice is that “The Guilt Trip” doesn’t simply rely on the stale jokes of Andy butting heads with his mother. Sure, they’re there (as the mediocre trailer demonstrates), but there’s a bit more heart to the film.
Rather than going extreme and giving into slapstick or raunch, “The Guilt Trip” manages to tell a sweet story about an adult male reconciling with his mother. The pun in the title aside, the movie is less about the conflict and more about the resolution. Where it could devolve into a screaming, shrieking mess, “The Guilt Trip” lays things out nice and safe for the most part.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of playing it safe in movies, but it works here. And it is this softer touch to “The Guilt Trip” that makes it accessible to its audience. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a film for teenagers to see on a Saturday night. Instead, “The Guilt Trip” is the kind of movie you can safely take your mother to and enjoy together.
Even when the humor does swerve into blue territory, it’s still something you can enjoy with your mom. The most dangerous dialogue is very parental, including concerns about Andy’s penis as a child and the perceived danger of picking up a hitchhiker.
It’s not often that a movie surprises me, but I always welcome it when it happens. I’m not saying that “The Guilt Trip” is my favorite of the year in any category. There are some pacing problems, and the script could be stronger. But Streisand and Rogen have surprisingly good and surprisingly low-key chemistry together that makes them work in their roles and give the movie a certain warmth that is often missing in a piece like this.