The Guilt Trip
1 and 1/2 out of 4 stars
As each year passes it becomes more apparent that Hollywood is growing ever more tone deaf and clueless when it comes to its Christmastime releases. In lieu of past epic dramas, we're given angry, brittle comedies or bleak action thrillers. This holiday season in particular more resembles an August or February dumping ground than the usual coveted prestige year-end offerings.
"The Guilt Trip" is the second release this week ("This is 40" being the other) that is about a family in some phase of emotional disrepair and is more contentious than it is heartwarming. If it were a meal, it would be the Sweet & Sour Chicken dinner served at Chinese restaurants that caters to those not celebrating Christmas. Because it stars two high-profile performers, it should do well enough to justify its existence but beyond that, no one in a joy-seeking state of mind will find it of much use.
What we have here is Andrew (Seth Rogen), a smart but uncharismatic cleaning supply entrepreneur who has grown weary of a lifetime of mollycoddling lavished upon him by his long-widowed mother, Joyce (Barbra Streisand). Although he'd rather not, Andrew makes a yearly trek to New Jersey to spend "quality" time with Joyce who peppers him about his nonexistent love life, rambles on about the good ol' days and continuously grates on his nerves.
During their current visit, Joyce goes confessional by spouting details regarding her first love relationship with a boy she knew as a teen. The boy wasn't interested in her for the long haul but was crafty and able enough to couch his dismissal of her in a way that sounded unselfish and gallant; he would give her up to a better man (Andrew's late father). Instead of being moved and/or touched, Andrew treats the moment as a springboard that will reunite his mother with her long-lost love and thus relieve him of future visits and her relentless left-handed optimism.
In a move that makes zero sense, Andrew invites Joyce to join him in a cross-country road trip that is rife with oddball scenarios, uncomfortable silences and far too many forced only-in-the-movies comic setups.
At one stop when they're halted by bad weather in Tennessee, they must get help from an old flame of his (Yvonne Strahovski) who dumped him and is happily married and pregnant with her second child -- awkward. Another features Joyce attempting to get a free meal at a Texas steakhouse by eating a five-plus pound steak dinner in less than an hour -- not awkward, but stagey. When in the car, Joyce insists that they listen to "Middlesex" -- a new book-on-tape novel about the psychological and sensual awakening of a hermaphrodite -- way beyond awkward.
Adding a different but equally uncomfortable air to the proceedings are Andrew's many failed pitches to major retailers while hawking his revolutionary cleaning product. He's nervous and overloads them with pointless technical minutia and the encounters end in squirmy failure. After one such disaster that is partly fueled by Joyce, Andrew hits the bottle which leads to nasty finger-pointing then angry rejoinders and ultimately Joyce getting sloshed in a motel bar.
As with many movies this year, you have to wonder what demographic the studio is shooting for with "The Guilt Trip." Single men? No. Single women? Nada. Families? Nope. Couples? Not a chance. The only people who are going to have any desire to see this movie are devoted fans of Rogen (there's a few) and Streisand (a whole bunch) -- and there's the rub.
Long past the point where she needs to appear in movies (or record new music, for that matter) in order to make a living, Streisand (as she has done with the "Focker" franchise) is appearing here on a lark, because she can -- because she is "Barbra Streisand." She is a proven brand name with a legion of fervent followers who will watch her doing literally anything on screen. As wanting as this movie is, Streisand -- even doing the hovering, overbearing Jewish mother thing -- still emerges smelling like a freshly cut rose. In the end -- as far as her fans are concerned -- there's no such thing as a bad Barbra Streisand movie. (Paramount)