December 20, 2012

The Guilt Trip

And the Oscar for "Best Fish Out of Water" goes to...

Grade: B -
Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

There’s two target audiences for The Guilt Trip: menopausal moms who don’t think their adult kids visit enough, and Barbra Streisand fans (Overlap Alert...). However, the one group of moviegoers who may as well stay away are Seth Rogan fans, because as a safe, convivial holiday diversion, The Guilt Trip is anything but a guilty pleasure.

Directed without imagination by Anne Fletcher (the equally unimaginative murderous row of Step Up, 27 Dresses, and The Proposal), the film is ultimately another variation on that time-tested film genre: the road movie. Andy Brewster (Rogan) is a single schlub with a love for science but no ability to convert that into a career—no word why he doesn’t just become, I dunno, a scientist. Andy has manufactured an organic cleaning dynamo he’s labeled “Scioclean,” but his wonky sales pitch is leaving potential retailers cold. Never mind that we never actually see Scioclean clean anything...Andy assures us it’s the best thing out there because, well, you can drink it.

One a trip home to New Jersey, Andy hears a story about the first love that got away from his longtime widowed mom Joyce (Streisand). Andy invites his mom on a cross-country sales trip under the guise of wanting to spend more time with her. Unbeknownst to her, Andy has tracked her old beau to San Francisco, the final stop on their trek.

Lots of kvetching and overbearing ensues, yet Streisand—ever the pro—and Rogan display a surprising level of chemistry that carries the film through many dead spots and narrative lapses. An opening credits computer screen shot reveals Andy has less than $800 in his bank account, yet either he’s able to rent a car and pay for food and lodging from coast to coast or Joyce is paying for everything, which really calls into question the unspoken reason why Andy invited his mom along for the ride. Andy is repeatedly told he needs to change the name of his product...except he really doesn’t. Joyce chastises Andy’s use of any swear words...until she lets loose a stream of profanity after Andy talks back to her one night. Joyce tells Andy to never pick up hitchhikers, at least until...well, you get the idea.

The film teeters on tedium whenever it detours off the beaten path, like Joyce’s drunken night at a road bar or her attempt to win a free meal by scarfing down a 50-ounce steak in an hour. Fortunately, the bulk of the film comprises some sharp byplay between Streisand and Rogan, and there’s a late reveal that salvages a modicum of pathos. The Guilt Trip isn’t an Apatow apparition, and its target audiences wouldn’t have it any other way.

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