As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on a road trip, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage, with mom along for the ride.
Organic chemist Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) has invented an all-natural cleaning solution he hopes to sell to retailers in a cross-country trek. He’s invested everything in the product, and the trip is a make-or-break eight-day marathon. Before hitting the road, he reluctantly invites his meddling mother Joyce (Barbra Streisand) along for the ride, and the unlikely pair embark on a comedic and life-changing journey.
Because of her iconic status, people forget—and the younger generation probably has no clue—what a gifted comedic actress Barbra Streisand is. If you’re gay, and of a certain age, then The Guilt Trip really is going to be all about Barbra for you. The hair, the nails, the eyeliner. You won’t be disappointed. Ms. Streisand delivers the goods, taking a somewhat formulaic script by Disney scribe Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars) and turning it into pure (kvetching) Barbra gold. Her timing and delivery are as flawless as her French manicure. Breathe easy and buy your ticket.
I call the script “formulaic,” but only because it’s a road trip movie. Road trip movies tend to follow a pretty standard formula. Unlikely pairs (or groups) of protagonists are put together in the close quarters of a moving vehicle, with an end destination set at hundreds or thousands of miles away. Along the way, they will face challenges, setbacks, each other, before emerging triumphant, with a better understanding of everyone involved. Fogelman’s script follows this map, of course, but also manages to make it both light and heartwarming, without being too treacly.
Director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, The Proposal) keeps things moving at an easy pace and doesn’t shy away from underlining the journey’s emotional milestones. When parents and their offspring step out of their presumed roles, it can be played for laughs, sure, but allowing the same characters moments of poignant recognition keeps the proceedings grounded, while also contributing to their (and the audience’s) understanding of the characters.
While the trailer for the film promises a series of postcard jokes—“See Barbra pick up a hitchhiker!” “See Barbra eat a 50-ounce steak!”—the real comedy here is in the universally recognizable relationship between a mother and child. Seth Rogen plays against his usual stoner/big lug persona and makes Andy intelligent, quick-witted, charming and, as his own mother points out, just a little condescending. Parents, especially somewhat smothering parents like Joyce, see more of those eye rolls and hear more of those under-the-breath sarcastic remarks than you might think. When she finally calls him on it, it’s brutal and honest, but still motherly. You may not buy Seth Rogen as an organic chemist, but you will believe he and Barbra are mother and son, which is no small feat.
The ultimate message here is that even though we tend to cast family members in certain roles early on, the truth is that everyone is human. Joyce and Andy have both put on a brave face and hidden their frailties and failures from one another, but it’s only when they share them, that they really begin to appreciate each other. The “be true to yourself and others” angle will especially resonate with an LGBTQ audience.
The Guilt Trip may be light on plot and innovation and may also lack some of the wit and nuance of its mother/son movie predecessor, Mother (starring Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds), but it still has plenty of laughs, heart and, of course, Barbra. If it inspires you to give your mom a call, then I’d say it’s done its job well.