Guilt Trip (United States, 2012)

December 19, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Guilt Trip Poster

Anne Fletcher's Guilt Trip is essentially a mismatched buddy road comedy. That's a genre as old as the cinema and it can't be said that Guilt Trip does anything sufficiently interesting to warrant notice (unless you count Barbra Streisand dropping the f-bomb to be "sufficiently interesting"). To its credit, the screenplay, credited to Dan Fogelman and based on a real-life incident, doesn't take every predictable detour, but it takes enough that the movie never ceases to feel overly familiar.

There's not much to the story - it's a road trip from New Jersey to California with would-be inventor Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) and his bossy, stereotypical Jewish mother, Joyce (Barbra Streisand). Andy's trying to sell a cleaning product to various distribution outlets and Joyce is along to provide moral support. Actually, Andy's taking Joyce to San Francisco so she can catch up with her first true love, although one wonders whether such an act of filial devotion deserves the punishment of having to endure Joyce for a week. I was only in the theater for about 90 minutes and I had my fill of her.

As with all buddy movies and romantic comedies, it's all about chemistry. Rogen and Streisand have just enough for the film to work. They're believable in their respective roles - Rogen as the son who finds living across the country from his mom to be the perfect distance and Streisand as the woman who can't let go. Andy has gotten into the habit of ignoring his mother - something that proves impossible when they're sitting in a car together. Joyce, on the other hand, has gotten into the habit of being ignored and presses the advantage when she has it. Needless to say, the emotional core of Guilt Trip is about how these two overcome their differences and come away with a deeper appreciation of one another. Both attain closure. I have no idea why this movie wasn't targeted for a Mother's Day weekend release.

Rogen plays against type as an uptight guy who has probably never smoked weed in his life. He stays in the background, willingly ceding the spotlight to Streisand, who needs it to thrive. She is, as usual, bigger than life, but she's well cast in the role. The baggage she brings with her helps. She's not required to do a lot of acting; all she has to do is feed the stereotype. She's the busybody Jewish mother who wants her boy to show her respect and find a nice girl to settle down with. Joyce goes so far as to reunite Andy with an old flame with predictably disastrous results.

The movie is humorous in the way that films of this sort typically are. There are some amusing lines worthy of chuckles and maybe even a hardier laugh from time-to-time. The production reeks of geniality. It so desperately wants to be likeable that it ends up being bland. Good scenes, like the one in which Andy and Joyce finally take the gloves off and have a genuine heart-to-heart (this is where the "fuck" comes in) are easily forgotten amidst the pervasive mediocrity that saturates so much of the movie. Guilt Trip isn't bad but it's not very good, either. It's the kind of thing you might not turn off if you stumbled upon it on cable late at night, but the idea of anyone who isn't a die-hard Barbra Streisand fan paying good money for the privilege of watching this movie seems unlikely.

Streisand's reason for making the film is unclear, although the fact that the entire thing was shot within 45 minutes of her home may have something to do with it. One must give director Fletcher credit: she masterfully creates the illusion of a cross-country car trip when not a day's worth of first unit shooting took place outside of Southern California. Arguably, that's the most remarkable thing about Guilt Trip. Normally, it's said that in a road trip, the destination is less important than the route taken getting there. In this case, each is equally unimportant. Guilt Trip is cinematic comfort food for road trip fans who aren't given indigestion by Streisand.

Guilt Trip (United States, 2012)

Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Music: Christophe Beck
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2012-12-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1