Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen
Length: 95 min.
Barbra Streisand is zero for three in the 21st century. With her two other millennial screen credits tied to the legend-slaying Fockers franchise, poor Babs has Jane Fonda’d herself into temporary irrelevance. She isn’t to blame for The Guilt Trip, though, as she and co-star Seth Rogen are left stranded by a dire screenplay by Crazy, Stupid, Love. writer Dan Fogelman.
The film follows Rogen’s nebbish Andy Brewster, a chemist and inventor who has devised an organic cleaning product named Scieoclean that he can’t sell. Preparing to embark on a lengthy cross-country road trip to pitch it to buyers, he visits his mother Joyce (Streisand) in New Jersey, and discovers that she was in love with another man before she met his father. Andy tracks the man down to California and invites his dear ma to schlep to the west coast with him. Naturally, wacky hijinks ensue.
For a film that is ostensibly a comedy, it’s bizarre that the only parts that work are those that relate to the fraught nature of ageing mother/adult son relationships. That said, Streisand’s character is written seemingly to evoke the audience’s collective experience of nagging, overbearing mothers, like some sort of smothering Frankenstein. Joyce is a bit of a meshuggenah, though her heart is always in the right place.
Andy is a similar mess of a character. Apparently both unlucky and preposterously inept, he fumbles his way through spiel after spiel with all the finesse of a teenager, now with the added weight of his mother sitting next to him in waiting rooms trying to wipe dirt off his face. So for the majority of the film, Andy kvetches, Joyce pesters, and they each grate on each other until they grate on us too.
The Guilt Trip pummels you with the worst aspects of its two central characters and scarcely deigns to give you any reprieve from them. Its biggest crime is its utter waste of a stellar supporting cast. Wonderful actors like Miriam Margolyes, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott and Casey Wilson have so little to do that it’s a mystery why anyone bothered to cast them in the first place. It almost feels as though, out of reverence for Streisand, director Anne Fletcher refused to allow anyone the opportunity to steal scenes off her.
While one of the tropes of the road trip movie is a focus on the (usually) two people in the car, The Guilt Trip would have been buoyed hugely by a couple of funny, extended detours. Instead, there’s a snowstorm breakdown outside a strip club – a choice made solely for another bland gag about how uncomfortable Andy is with any sexualisation of his mother, a tired and vaguely offensive horse the film beats well beyond death – and a steakhouse eating competition, both of which are tossed aside as plot devices.
Unsalvageable by either Streisand or Rogen’s schtick, The Guilt Trip is a light drama that’s been realigned to become a wacky buddy comedy, and the resultant tonal confusion wreaks havoc on the final product. You’ll sit and wait for something to redeem it – a sudden transformation into Transamerica (Duncan Tucker 2005) would be fun, given the many fundamental similarities - but ultimately, you’ll get bupkis.