'The Guilt Trip': Guilty With an Explanation

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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Popcorn Column
by Michael S. Goldberger  

Paramount Pictures
Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand participate in the mother-son comedy 'The Guilt Trip,' directed by Anne Fletcher.
I hope the North Central Film Critic Accrediting Association, that august body whose legendary pomposity has long struck fear in many a reviewer's heart, doesn't get wind of this critique of Anne Fletcher's "The Guilt Trip." You see, I enjoyed the albeit schmaltzy ball of fluff, and they might deem me better suited to selling Hyundais on the highway.
Don't get me wrong. This goodhearted farce starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mom and son who traverse America in a comically epiphanic journey will doubtfully be analyzed in those haughty French cinema magazines, even when they simply can't find enough stuff about Jerry Lewis to fill their pages. All the same, I laughed, guiltily at first.
out of 4

Joined by other audience members, we tittered, commiserated, formed just a slight tear here and there, and for 95 minutes suspended our disbelief in the name of simple, uncomplicated enjoyment. Which probably explains much of the film's charm. Wafted along in sugar coated truths and cynicisms, you fantasize about parent-child resolution.

Fact is, any human relationship worth having is complicated and beyond explanation. And that goes double if it's between parent and offspring. However, that bit of social psychology acknowledged, Streisand and Rogen nonetheless manage to push enough of the buttons and strike enough of the requisite nerves to pull off the gambit.
The famous diva portrays Montclair, N.J.'s Joyce Brewster, a member of that society of widows who've shunned another go at marital bliss in order to dote over their resultantly overprotected child. Rogen's Andrew, who has resided on the sunny left coast since earning his degree in organic chemistry at UCLA, is the beneficiary of that devotion.
The opening scene, which depicts Andrew's semi-amused forbearance as he listens to a series of Mom's messages discussing everything from the potential purchase of boxer shorts to where she will park at Newark Airport, speaks volumes about said upbringing. On and on it goes, until you hear yourself mouthing the mercy-seeking, "OK, Ma, OK!"
But don't you dare ratchet-up that plea to, "OK, OK, Ma, leave me alone already," which might very well bring that plaintive, indefensible assault that goes, "So this is how I'm repaid for spending the whole 100 Years War in labor, and then giving up my own happiness for you." Stepping back emotionally, from a safe distance it's pretty funny.
Because, whether misguided, disillusioned, or innocently selfish, it's essentially about love. And thus, it is in this realm of human cataclysm and wonder that "The Guilt Trip" delves, its successes due more to subject matter than execution. The premise -- a cross country jaunt shared by Mom and sonny boy -- is hardly credible. And yet, it works.
Given that we forgive this flick its flaws in order to enjoy its loose-leafed pontifications and honey-dipped sappiness, only the slimmest of reasons is necessary to prompt the title expedition. We learn Andy is an expert in his field who, after a three-year stint with the EPA, has invented a miraculous, environmentally friendly cleaner. Now he has to sell it.
But never mind how he has secured a product demonstration/interview with every top retailer across the U.S. If we've accepted everything else, why not this star-spangled fantasy about American business opportunity? So it's K-Mart in this city, Costco in that, and so on, until practically every Fortune 500 retailer has witnessed Andy's presentation.
Alas, without giving too much away, Rogen's chemist is hardly as good a businessman as he is an inventor. Although Scieoclean, his oft mispronounced, misunderstood organic cleaner is a marvel, Andy's egg headed presentation is a stultifying bore. Of course Mommy, a shopping maven personified, has a suggestion or two. You take it from there.
Naturally, the intrepid duo meets a few characters along their route, often the result of segues written in to fatten the script. Shades of Forrest Tucker's oil millionaire in "Auntie Mame" (1958), Brett Cullen is a pleasant fantasy as the gentleman cowboy enamored of Joyce when she accepts a Texas restaurant’s four and a half pound steak eating challenge.
This is all convivially portrayed without us thinking for a second that Streisand is anyone but Streisand. The same goes for Rogen. It may be a stroke of dumb luck. But while both players are capable enough actors, by not venturing beyond caricature they keep it unassuming, ostensibly affirming that the humorous voyage should be graded on a curve.
Hence, I am placed in the position of apologist, hesitant to sign my name to this cinema prescription for fear I will be found out as a rank sentimentalist. In defense, as witnessed any given night on Turner Classic Movies, there is a place for the B movie. Seen in that light, my innocent hope is that I'll be vindicated by viewers who enjoy "The Guilt Trip."
"The Guilt Trip," rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Anne Fletcher and stars Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen and Brett Cullen. Running time: 95 minutes
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