‘The Guilt Trip’ is a Funny, Emotional Winner (4/5 stars)

Monday, December 3, 2012
By Kevin Crossman
Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip

Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip

The Guilt Trip twists the age-old road-trip movie only slightly by pairing a mother and son, but there is more than enough emotional appeal to make up for been-there, done-that travel gags. Directed by Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, and credited as choreographer in comedy projects such asĀ Walk Hard, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Along Came Polly) and written by Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, Cars, Tangled, Fred Claus) The Guilt Trip will strongly appeal to adults of all ages with it’s heartwarming and emotionally fulfilling story.

The film stars Seth Rogen as Andy Brewster who has invented a new organic cleaning product but cannot find a buyer. He travels from Los Angeles to New Jersey to start a road trip to meet with buyers from a series of name-brand retailers (Costco, Orchard Supply, etc.). While visiting with his very stereotypically Jewish mother Joyce, played with aplomb by Barbra Streisand, Andy learns his father was not his mother’s first love. Andy’s dad died when he was eight years old and his mother has never dated, so he looks up the man and finds he is unmarried and working in San Francisco. Faster than you can say plot device, Andy is inviting his mother on the trip as a way to find quality time between mother and son, while secretly plotting to reunite mom with her old flame.

Andy’s sales pitch to the buyers isn’t very good, and he doesn’t listen to his mother for ways to improve the appeal for his awkwardly named-product Scioclean (Sci-O-Clean). But Andy does not want to disappoint his mother who loves him, perhaps a bit too much, so he hides how desperate his financial straights are. The first act paints Streisand’s character as stiffling and throws every Jewish stereotype you can imagine. But, throughout the film Andy and we in the audience learn there’s more to the Joyce character than we first see. We also learn about Andy’s background, including the fact that he left New Jersey to attend school across the country at UCLA.

Streisand and Rogen

Streisand and Rogen

I won’t give away more of the plot for fear of spoiling what is an extremely satisfying ending. There’s a bit of a twist and it hit me and the audience I saw it with like a (good kind of) punch to the gut. Some tears were shed, we will leave it that. As with Fogelman’s last film Crazy, Stupid, Love, the plot twist really works well and you hate yourself for not seeing it coming. In that film, the twist was played for laughs, but in this one it’s all heart. The scene is shot beautifully and Fletcher sets the shots and beats up perfectly.

As for the comedy, there’s plenty to go around. As with many road trip films, we have Rogen and Streisand in nearly every scene and a few recognizable faces who show up for a single scene. These include Colin Hanks, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Scott, Kathy Najimy, Casey Wilson, Nora Dunn, and Brett Cullen. There are some funny lines delivered well by the leads and the tension between mother and son does lead to some effective humor. Rogen in particular is successful playing a bit against type in a nebbish role that a circa-2000 Ben Stiller would have been perfect for. Streisand’s grounded character displays none of the flamboyant tendencies of her last two film appearances in the Fockers films, and seems so comforable on screen you have to wonder why she hasn’t played in the lead in a film for more than 15 years.

As you might expect, the road trip element sets up some tension between the characters and both actors play the straight scenes as well as they do the comedy. A couple set-pieces such as Joyce eating a 50 ounce steak in an hour are fun and the side characters enjoyable too. Thankfully, most of the travel gags are seen in the trailer, leaving quite a bit of additional comedy material that’s more about the characters than rehashed Grand Canyon tourist jokes.

Thanks to the actors and a good script, the film definitely elevates itself from it’s pedestrian premise. With a fine mix of broad humor and true heart, The Guilt Trip should do great business this holiday season.

4

One Response to “‘The Guilt Trip’ is a Funny, Emotional Winner (4/5 stars)”

  1. [...] weekend. The Seth Rogen / Barbra Streisand road-trip comedy has not gained good reviews, though we liked it and Ain’t It Cool News also gave it an appreciative review. Even with a small $40 million [...]

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