Road trip movies in recent years have tended to be deservedly R-rated comedies geared towards the young, post-adolescent audience. “The Guilt Trip,” by contrast, is so inoffensive you have the feeling they threw a few profanities in just to get the PG-13.
Star and co-executive producer Seth Rogen plays Andy, an organic chemist who’s invented a nontoxic, effective household cleaner he’s invested his own money and now intends to market. Before setting out on a weeklong road trip to make a series of pitch meetings, he stops off to visit his widowed mother Joyce, played by star and co-executive producer Barbara Streisand.
During a mother/son chat, Joyce drops the bombshell that Andy’s father was her second choice, and that the great love of her life was a boy she met in Florida who didn’t want to marry her. When he finds out that he was actually named for the one who got away, Andy Googles his namesake and armed with at least some information, invites his mother to join him on the trip, to which he’s now added a last stop.
Screenwriter Dan Fogleman wrote “Crazy, Stupid, Love” but otherwise most of his credits are in animated movies: “Bolt,” “Tangled” and “Cars 2.” That being the case, you might expect more over-the-top characters, and it’s for the better that we don’t get them. Andy is relatively restrained and respectful with his well-meaning but pushy caricature of a Jewish mother.
And Rogen, who is often at his best when he takes the less-is-more approach, is effective in a part comes out of the gate as a character who’d be right at home on “The Big Bang Theory.” Streisand could have been unbearable in this. A little more shtick and a little less dimension and Joyce would have been the two-dimensional stereotype I suspect exists on the pages of the screenplay. Add an actress and a director and a small bit of alchemy occurs: Joyce becomes a heroine you root for as she re-enters the outside world after years of cloistered widowhood.
This is Streisand’s first leading role since 1996, and the only acting she’s done has been her two supporting turns in the “Fockers” sequels in that time. Her fans needn’t worry. She’s still got it. At 70, she is actually a bit old to be the mother of the 30 year old Rogen. Nonetheless, she looks great and the two sell the on-screen relationship.
In point of fact, this movie wouldn’t work at all if it weren’t for their unlikely but undeniable chemistry. This is emphatically not a laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s often quiet and sometimes bittersweet, but it isn’t hard to watch and it isn’t depressing. A few more instances of comic awkwardness, like when Joyce forces Andy to look up an old girlfriend who’s now married and pregnant, might have helped, as might a few more of the sort of twists that Fogelman’s pulls out of the hat towards the end.
Director Anne Fletcher (“Step Up,” “27 Dresses,” “The Proposal”) has crafted a love story without romance. This is about a mother/son relationship and as such we should probably just grateful that it isn’t more Oedipal. The movie, in less capable hands, certainly would have been about how the overbearing Jewish mom gets on her son’s nerves, but fortunately, everyone here seems a bit smarter than that. Audiences over the age of say, 17 or 18, will take vindictive pleasure in Joyce’s advice usually being right.
Technically, by the way, this movie is adequately workmanlike but not stunning. Reportedly, Streisand nixed extended location shooting because she didn’t want to travel, and there is a definite eau de green screen and second unit shooting on much of this. She didn’t set foot near the Grand Canyon and it won’t just be the movie geeks who notice.
Nonetheless, this simulated road trip is reasonably entertaining, and it’s got some genuine star horse power. There are deleted scenes during the end credits, and the last of them is worth the wait.
“The Guilt Trip” is now showing at theaters across the Capital District, including The Regal Cinemas Latham Circle Mall 10, The Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13, The Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, The Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX and The Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8.