By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ah, guilt! Or, in the words of the old psychoanalytic joke, “Oedipus Schmedipus, as long as he loves his mother.”
The Guilt Trip stars Seth Rogen as Andy Brewster, a soft-spoken inventor who needs to demonstrate his latest invention, a new environmentally safe cleaning fluid, for interested corporate hotshots.
So he takes an eight-day, cross-country road trip from New Jersey to Texas to Las Vegas to San Francisco.
But he invites his long-widowed mom, Joyce, whom he’d like to see get back in the dating game after all these years, to accompany him. She’s played by Barbra Streisand (in her first lead role since 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces), and the reason she’s in tow is that he thinks he has found a way to reunite her with a lost love for whom she still carries a torch.
This is a crucial journey for Andy because he’s struggling to sell his product, the development of which he has spent all his money on, to potential retailers.
The problem is that although he may be a brilliant organic chemist, he’s no salesman. Which is why his pitches usually end up in ignominious rejection.
So having his ever-encouraging mom along –- a relentless advice machine if ever there were one –- as he tosses hopeful pitch after hopeful pitch is unlikely to help him raise his game.
The Guilt Trip is a neurotic comedy, a subdued buddy romp of sorts, in which, predictably but not stultifyingly, mother gets on son’s nerves.
But not vice versa. He fights a losing battle trying not to get annoyed as she mothers -– a word that might be described in this case as a rearrangement of the word “smother.” Yet mother and son have something to learn about themselves and each other.
A dialed-down Rogen almost but not quite plays straight man to Streisand, but the more important element here is that the two have a largely convincing mother-son chemistry.
Director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, 27 Dresses, Step Up) works from a semi-autobiographical screenplay by Dan Fogelman, who also wrote the script for Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Neither the screenwriter nor the director strains for big laughs. Instead, they seem satisfied to entertain by letting their gifted stars interact nonstop. That synergy, combined with a cathartic conclusion that packs an emotional and non-formulaic punch, proves to be more than enough.
The Guilt Trip (originally titled “My Mother’s Curse”) pretty much stands alone in the empty genre of mother-and-grown-son flicks. There’s Mother, with Debbie Reynolds and Albert Brooks, and that’s pretty much it.
Streisand and Rogen are terrific together. Just in case anyone has forgotten why she is such a big star, and just how effective a screen actress she is, The Guilt Trip will remind you. She takes a role that sounds like a Jewish-mother caricature and has the potential on paper to be stereotypical and overbearing, and she makes it three-dimensional and charming to boot.
As for Rogen, he underplays and delivers his trademark mumbled asides -– many of which are very funny –- with Streisand as his foil. Yet never for an instant does he undermine his character’s umbilical connection to and affection for his mother.
And give the two stars some credit as co-executive producers as well –- for keeping the tone understated, for keeping the script character-driven, for lending their expert comic timing to a worthwhile project: a low-keyed two-hander with smart sensitivity and admirable restraint.
So we’ll nurture 3 stars out of 4 for the warmheartedly amusing mother-son reconciliation dramedy, The Guilt Trip. It’s Seth and Babs, giggles and gabs, no need for cabs.