- Rated PG-13
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ith the exception of her supporting roles in the two “Meet the Parents” sequels, it’s been 16 years since Barbara Streisand actually starred in a film, so it’s a little surprising that she chose “The Guilt Trip” as her highly anticipated return from semi-retirement. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s one that left me feeling totally indifferent, and you’d expect more from someone as well respected as the veteran actress. A harmless, paint-by-numbers mother-son comedy that has a very been-there, done-that quality to it, “The Guilt Trip” may have sounded funnier on paper, but the film doesn’t give you a lot to laugh about.
Seth Rogen stars as Andy Brewster, a chemist who’s spent the last five years (and most of his savings) developing an all-natural cleaning product called Scieoclean that he hopes to sell to major retail stores during a cross-country road trip. While visiting his mother Joyce (Streisand) the night before he leaves, she tells him a story about a pre-marital fling with a man she loved so much, she ended up naming her son after him. When curiosity gets the best of Andy, he tracks down the old boyfriend in San Francisco and decides to invite his mom to tag along on the trip, with the intention of surprising her when they arrive in California.
Unfortunately for the audience, hilarity doesn’t ensue, despite director Anne Fletcher’s best efforts to score some laughs from Joyce’s incessant mothering and the customary road trip movie detours, including a quick stop at a Tennessee strip club and an eating competition at a Texas steakhouse. There’s just nothing particularly funny about anything that happens to Andy and Joyce along the way, and that’s mostly due to the fact that the material is really tame. Dan Fogelman’s script is about as formulaic as they get, and apart from its somewhat twist ending (which he nails, by the way), there are so few surprises throughout that it would've been entirely forgettable without its two stars.
You wouldn’t expect Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen to have such great chemistry, but if there’s anything that Fletcher did right, it was casting them as mother and son, because they make the movie a lot more tolerable. Streisand slides perfectly into the role of the archetypal Jewish matriarch, though she's wise not to play it too over the top, and while Rogen looks a bit out of his element as the straight man in a PG-13 comedy, he proves to be a more nuanced actor than he lets on. Their onscreen relationship is certainly relatable to the one that most sons have with their mothers, which makes “The Guilt Trip” a risky endeavor for any family outing, because while it's certainly sweet and heartfelt at times, the film also gives you a pretty good idea of what a road trip with your mom would be like, and that's not a discussion you want to have with her anytime soon.