Have you ever dreamed of watching Barbara Streisand gobble down four and a half pounds of red meat before a cheering crowd? Or wished for a comedy as anxiety inducing as an argument with your own overbearing but well-meaning mom? Do you find bland business pitches hilarious and deeply believe Seth Rogen can do no wrong? If so, my friend, then I've got just the movie for you: The Guilt Trip, playing in a theater near you!
Now for a limited time only, you can see Rogen as Andy Brewster, an organic chemist/aspiring entrepreneur on the verge of pitching his brand new all-natural cleaner to major outlets like Kmart and the Home Shopping Network. All that lies between him and success is an eight-day long cross-country journey peppered with sales meetings…well, that and his mom. Streisand co-stars as Joyce, his silly and smothering mother who collects frog figurines, wears clip-on earrings (an actual plot point) and spit-cleans her son at embarrassing moments. All Joyce wants for her beloved boy is for him to find love and thrive at work, so she lovingly but relentlessly offers advice—like adding some panache to his pitch—which he smugly and resolutely ignores. But wait, there's more!
While Andy is visiting his mom in New Jersey before heading West, Joyce confesses her concerns that she's to blame for his failed love life. So, she opens up about her short-lived romance with her first flame, who is not Andy's deceased father but is his namesake. While most men would feel awkward and try to forget this conversation, Andy inexplicably opts to track the guy down (via the search engine Bing) and surprise his mother with a poorly planned reunion in California. After a fretful, unfunny and one-sided conversation, Joyce has agreed to join Andy on his road trip, and they are on their way. By this point in the movie, you may experience irritability and boredom. You do not need to consult a doctor. These are common side effects of The Guilt Trip.
As mother and son traverse the country, they aimlessly bound from one set piece to the next, stacking up plot holes and setups with no payoffs. Watching this movie, you might ask yourself why Andy would bring his mother with him into the corporate offices where she can fluster and distract him? Or why he felt the need to trick his mom into reconnecting with her old beau to begin with? Or what is the point of introducing Andy's high school sweetheart, Joyce's love of frogs, or the repeated references to hot flashes? The answers won't come and can most easily be chalked up to bad screenwriting at the hands of Dan Fogelman. But at least there are plenty of laughs along the way, right? Wrong!
There are a handful of entertaining gags, including a stripper car mechanic called Moonlight (Analeis Lorig), but much of The Guilt Trip is made up of what feels like rough draft jokes, as if they were placeholders that were meant to be punched up later. Beyond that, Streisand and Rogen lack chemistry. They are pleasant enough onscreen together, but never really click comically. Instead Streisand's shrill nagging mom shtick gets irksome by the ten-minute mark, but because she is nothing but supportive of Andy, his non-stop condescension and eye rolling toward her makes them both revolting.
Not interested in the pairing of Streisand and Rogen? Then perhaps you'll be enticed by The Guilt Trip's supporting cast which boasts such spectacular comedic performers as Colin Hanks, Adam Scott, Casey Wilson, Dale Dickey and Ari Graynor. Regrettably, each is given little more than a cameo appearance, which is a waste of such a promising ensemble. While this flaccid comedy has plenty of frustrating aspects, from its illogical plot to its misfiring leads and lazy punch lines, the waste of these performers is definitely the most offending. All these road bumps wind up making The Guilt Trip a ride without momentum, direction, or a worthwhile destination.