A gobsmacked Rogen attempts to explain that Streisand is his mother, but the pair seem to be only superficially related in this uninspired laundry list of overbearing-mother cliches.
In her first starring role since 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces, Streisand plays Joyce Brewster, a New Jersey widow whose two remaining passions in life are her son Andy (Rogen) and M&M’s in bed.
Andy, meanwhile, is a ‘brilliant’ organic chemist who has developed a new environmentally safe cleaning fluid which he flogs to wholesalers as they travel from state to state.
Having tracked down Joyce’s onetime lover from before her marriage, Andy intends to reunite them, inviting his mother to join him on a cross-country journey without telling her his romantic plans for her.
Along the way, their car breaks down, forcing them to seek refuge in a topless bar, bicker, reminisce, get into a barroom brawl, and eventually, make Streisand engulf four pounds of steak in under an hour for $100.
In another scene, they stop by the home of Rogen’s high school sweetheart, now married, to reminisce as her husband (Colin Hanks) looks on wistfully. What’s meant to be a bittersweet moment plays like a pale facsimile of human emotion in a way that characterizes the entire movie.
Rogen and Streisand share adequate chemistry but seldom seem like the real deal in choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher’s fourth movie. Fletcher made her breakthrough with the tolerable Step Up, followed by the toxic rom-com 27 Dresses. She redeemed herself a little with The Proposal, but has hit a plateau of mediocrity with The Guilt Trip.
Under her direction, Streisand and Rogen look like a pair of actors saying jokes written for them by a comedy think tank, running through scenarios with the emotional veracity of an eighties sitcom.
As Joyce needles her son from stop to stop, and Andy ineptly stumbles through business meetings, the audience is meant to identify with the cutely dysfunctional couple. They say movies mirror real-life, but a mirror at least gives the impression of three dimensions, which cannot be said of The Guilt Trip.
In interviews, screenwriter Dan Fogelman said the script was inspired by his own relationship with his mother. His concept and content are strong enough, but poor execution yields wafer-thin plotting and one-dimensional characterizations. As it is, betting on the star wattage of 70-year-old Streisand and the goofy grin of the decidedly limited Seth Rogen might be enough for a poster, but not a whole movie.
The film climaxes as they reach San Francisco and run smack dab into a plot twist that is obvious from its first act set up. This leads to a lachrymose heart-to-heart unrelated to the plot twist but, being the end of the movie, heart strings must be tugged.
The Guilt Trip isn’t the worst movie of the month (that would be Parental Guidance) and in fact it is a pleasure to see Streisand return to a lead role. She is a bonifide star who has delivered legendary performances in classics like Funny Girl, Hello Dolly! and The Way We Were. In The Guilt Trip she generates a nostalgic charm, no matter how lackluster the material.
Rogen has an everyman quality and strong comedic timing, but his acting skills are minimal, leaving him uncomfortable-looking when he’s called upon to do anything other than be himself.
Don’t be fooled by the poster: The Guilt Trip might be pitched to young and old alike, but while Streisand fans will get their money’s worth, Rogen fans will be left wondering why they took this particular journey.
Watch the trailer for The Guilt Trip below, and then let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments section below!
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