Streisand and Rogen take a slow ‘Trip’ to Dullsville
Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand star in "The Guilt Trip."
Updated: December 31, 2012 11:44AM
“The Guilt Trip”
Clever title, “The Guilt Trip.”
Too bad it’s pretty much the only clever thing about this mild, modest, but mostly pain-free comedy, which bets everything on the hope that its two stars will generate fireworks together. Unfortunately, they fizzle instead.
It wasn’t a bad theory. Seth Rogen is the best-known practitioner of the hard-R, rude-and-crude comedy movement, and he also has the ability to convey deeper feelings as needed — and Barbra Streisand has been dishing out spunky, yet heartfelt comedy for more than four decades. Somehow, though, when thrust into close proximity in a tiny car on a cross-country road trip, they cancel each other out.
Rogen plays Andy, a square, somewhat prudish chemist who has invented a new, non-toxic miracle cleaner he plans to pitch to a series of big-name retail outlets from New York to Las Vegas. Fatefully, he begins his trip with a guilt-dictated visit to his long-widowed mother Joyce (Streisand, in her first leading role in 16 years) in Brooklyn. And while suffering through his filial duty, he learns that there was once another man in his mother’s life before she met his father — a true love so fondly remembered that she named her only son after him. After learning that the man is apparently still alive, unmarried and living in San Francisco, Andy decides to extend his trip to the west coast, invite his mother along for the ride and re-introduce her to the love of her life. The film makes it fairly clear that Andy is making this selfless offer because he wants his mother to be happy, but it also could be that he wants to get the over-loving, over-worrying, over-involved Joyce off his back and onto someone else’s.
That sort of motive might have been a more effective means of making comic sparks fly between Andy and Joyce. However, director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal,” “27 Dresses”), working from a script by Dan Fogelman, is more interested in emphasizing the emotional bond between mother and son than milking Joyce’s well-intentioned nagging and Andy’s increasing annoyance to score some laughs. Andy’s annoyed, all right, in “The Guilt Trip,” but aside from a few sarcastic comments, he basically does a long, slow burn, suffering in passive-aggressive silence while his mother, clearly hurt, wonders what she’s doing wrong. Not funny.
In short, these two larger-than-life performers seem to have agreed to put their comic personas on mute in an effort to get at the heart of their characters’ relationship — a decision that doesn’t work for them or for us. There are a handful of potentially fruitful opportunities along the way, such as a scene in which they pull off the highway in a snowstorm and wind up hanging out at a strip joint, but they’re given short shrift for the most part. And the only one that’s explored in some detail — when Joyce tries to get a free meal by wolfing down a 50-ounce steak dinner in a Texas eatery — is more bizarre than amusing.
It didn’t have to be that way; there’s proof of that. By far the funniest moments in “The Guilt Trip” occur during the final credits, with Streisand and Rogen riffing in outtakes. The best is left for last and it provokes the kind of laughter that could have made watching this movie much more of a pleasure. But it’s too little too late.