Mark Reviews Movies

The Guilt Trip


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Barbara Streisand, Seth Rogen, Brett Cullen, Yvonne Strahovski, Colin Hanks, Adam Scott, Ari Graynor

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 12/19/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 19, 2012

The Guilt Trip is an experiment in seeing how long a movie can present a series of awkward situations before the entire affair seems awkward in and of itself. In this case, the answer is sometime after the son has to listen to an audiobook about a hermaphrodite with his mother—her choice—but before the mother decides to participate in an eating challenge at a Texas steakhouse in which she must devour a steak that weighs over 4 pounds in an hour or less. It might be around the time that mother and son have to visit a strip club to get off the highway when the son believes a tire on the rental car has gone flat.

Mind you, some of this material is a little amusing, although one would be hard pressed to cite any specific examples. So much of what actually works here comes from little looks, an occasional throwaway line in what seems to be a screenplay that left plenty of room for the two lead actors to improvise jokes to mixed effect, and the situations that are far shorter than the majority of scenes, like when the son takes his mother to the Grand Canyon after she has spent the entire trip saying she wants to see it. Soon after arriving, they wonder exactly how long they're supposed to stay in order for their visit to count. We can anticipate the fact that they'll end up there, but we appreciate the fact that the joke is succinct and to the point.

Much of the movie is not in the same vein. Whether it's more a symptom of Dan Fogelman's barebones and episodic script or director Anne Fletcher allowing her actors too much liberty to play with said script, the movie never manages to do much more than its one-joke premise permits.

Even with all of these issues (not to mention its unfortunately stale, over-lit appearance), though, there is some charm here. Yes, Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand help to stretch the material even thinner than it already is (The outtakes and alternate cuts of some of their scenes over the credits strongly suggest impromptu dialogue), but they also appear to be enjoying themselves in the process—laughing at their own jokes, going about their exchanges like everyday conversation, and displaying a little more affection for each other than their characters would at certain moments. It's not an infectious sort of charm, but, like that Grand Canyon joke, our appreciation for it is greater because of everything surrounding it.

Andy (Rogen) has created a completely natural cleaning product that he hopes to sell to a major retailer. His plan is to fly home to New Jersey, visit with his mom Joyce (Streisand) for the weekend, and set off on a cross-country road trip, stopping for scheduled pitch meetings on the way.

Two things put the idea to bring mom along in Andy's mind. First, she tells him the story of an old flame (He is also named Andy; this and similar instance suggests a generation that has stamped its children with their own repressed emotions)—her first love—whom she dated before she met Andy's father, who died when Andy was 8. She had hoped to marry this young man, but he wasn't interested in a serious relationship at the time.

Second, he finds her asleep in bed with home movies playing on the television. Joyce is alone without any desire to start dating—has never had any after her husband died—and only a handful of friends with whom to talk. Andy finds out the man of his mother's past lives and works in San Francisco and asks Joyce to come with him on the trip, keeping his ultimate plan of reuniting the old lovers a secret.

We foresee the story beats far in advance with every recognizable setup, each with the subtlety of the title's pun. Joyce constantly harps on Andy to reconnect with his first girlfriend so that he can find the closure she believes he needs in order to get out of his own romantic rut. It's of little surprise when the ex (Yvonne Strahovski) shows up with her husband (Colin Hanks). The story of their breakup illuminates his need to control things, as does an outburst with a representative of a retail chain when the stranger and his mother agree that the name and design of Andy's cleaning solution need improvement. The point, in case one couldn't notice, is that they aren't so different, Andy and Joyce.

This aspect of the relationship is more honest and less obvious than the comic setups, and there is a scene where Joyce finally calls out Andy on his passive aggressive behavior that makes her seem like a human being instead of a punch line. It's one scene, though, and The Guilt Trip quickly falls back into its clumsy rhythm.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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