A quick glance at the poster for The Guilt Trip, and this thought crossed my mind: ‘Really? Seth Rogen and Jennifer Aniston in a road movie?’ But looking closer (and actually reading the text) I realized I was in fact peering at a photo-shopped Barbra Streisand squeezing the face of Seth Rogen. The two had never before connected in my mind before this moment; but after watching them convincingly play mother and son, I fear they may be forever intertwined.
Written by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and dedicated to his own mother Joyce, The Guilt Trip opens with a series of voicemails from the film version of Joyce (Streisand) giving helpful tips to her son Andy (Rogen) for his upcoming trip home to New Jersey. Andy, a scientist turned inventor, plans to drive from the east to the west coast for a series of meetings, pitching his cleaning product to retailers.
After the widowed Joyce tells him a story of a long-lost love, Andy Googles the name and discovers her former flame now lives in San Francisco and is unmarried. So, Andy invites his overbearing mother to join him on the road trip, secretly planning to reconnect Joyce with her ex at their final stop.
Along the road there are more laughs than I had anticipated, thanks to Barbra’s fish-out-of-water Jersey girl Joyce and Seth’s great comic timing. The two have a really nice chemistry together, and are completely believable as mother and son. But as the trip bears on, you begin to root for the lovable Joyce over Andy, whose annoyance at her smart advice starts to grate.
The run time is only a touch over 90 minutes, but it feels longer. Again, that’s because you know where it’s headed, and you want to hurry up and get there.
There’s also not enough of the ‘guilt’ promised in that glossy poster. Joyce is loud, yes, and maybe cares too much, but certainly doesn’t guilt Andy into anything, and it’s clear he asked her to join him not out of guilt, but of genuine care for her happiness. But it is a nice punny title (originally the film was called My Mother’s Curse).
On the technical side, there’s distractingly obvious green screen in most of the driving scenes, and many times you can clearly see studio lights reflected in Seth’s glasses. These careless details take you out of the story and, in my case, into a daydream about what Babs was really like on set.
On the whole, thanks to a great pairing, The Guilt Trip is harmless fun. Streisand revels in her unglamorous role, and the two are definitely a much better option than the Rogen/Aniston film created in my mind. (“Coming to theatres everywhere… He’s a former geek, she’s the beauty queen who bullied him at school, but together, they’re in for a trip of a lifetime!”)
Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand’s fun double act would have been better served with a less formulaic script, but their lovely chemistry will offer easy laughs for anyone wanting a simple holiday movie.