The Guilt Trip (**½)

guilt_tripI’m sure I’m hardly the only one who never expected to see Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand share the silver screen, but that’s just what they do in ‘The Guilt Trip’, a harmless comedy that mostly works due to the chemistry of the pair. There’s not a whole lot to love here, but more often than not there’s something to smile at. The script by Dan Fogelman has the ingredients to be successful, and the team of Rogen and Streisand do their best, but the direction of Anne Fletcher bungles the tone. She really struggles with the transitions from comedy to drama, leading to a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the end product. I’m sure that it’s going to have a decent amount of fans now that it’s in theaters;  a bit earlier than original scheduled, but one will have to keep their expectations low. I was hoping for a bit more than what I got, but those eager to just watch Rogen or Streisand do their thing (with the former more toned down than usual) will likely enjoy.

Andrew Brewster (Rogen) or Andy as he’s called, is a struggling inventor hoping that his revolutionary new cleaning product will be a ticket to success. He’s planning a cross country road trip to sell it to all the major stores, with a quick visit to his mother Joyce (Streisand) in New Jersey first. While there, he’s more or less guilted into offering to take her along, with the plan being that he can also reunite her with her first love. Thus begins a trip full of supposedly wacky misadventures between mother and son, including Joyce trying to set Andy back up with his now married ex Jessica (Yvonne Strahovski). There are times when things are very amusing, and a pair of scenes are quite good, but most of the time there’s just the sense that somewhere along the line things were changed, to the point where we have missed opportunities galore.

the-guilt-trip-seth-rogen-barbra-striesandThe main appeal here is watching Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand interact. The former is a buttoned up and sometimes self-serious nerd looking to catch a break, while the latter is a bored mother overjoyed at the chance to bond with her son. Rogen is the main character, but all the good moments go to Streisand. He’s solid, but saddled with being a sometimes too boring straight man. She’s the troublemaker of the two, and is clearly having a ball with the material. I do wish her character was a little more consistent and realistic, but there’s a pleasure in watching her bother her son. Their chemistry is very strong and some of their smaller moments together feature nice back and forth between the two. The supporting cast are totally wasted, but the likes of Colin Hanks, Yvonne Strahovski, Brett Cullen, Adam Scott, and Ari Graynor do nothing to hurt the film. They just pale in comparison to Rogen, and mainly Streisand.

Anne Fletcher is the reason why I can’t recommend this movie. She’s yet to make a good movie in my eyes, and while this isn’t a bad one, her direction messes up the cute script by the talented scribe Dan Fogelman. She definitely gives the film some warmth, but she keeps the comedy too broad and the drama too out of place. It all feels like it worked on the page, but Fletcher has far too heavy a hand. Fogelman has two very strong scenes that shine through though, one featuring Streisand eating, and the other putting Rogen on the Home Shopping Network. The latter scene is the best of the bunch, and really the only moment where the film entirely works. Her direction keeps this a missed opportunity for me, though mercifully Fletcher keeps things short.

If your standards are low enough, ‘The Guilt Trip’ is probably a decent choice this week to take your family to see. I’d obviously prefer you all see ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, but I know this will be the more widely available option. Seth Rogen is always enjoyable, and it’s nice to see Barbara Streisand have so much fun, but the screenplay is torpedoed by the film’s direction. I can’t stress that point enough. Those of you who can deal with a flawed movie like this could get a laugh or two, but I can’t imagine anyone preferring this to a rival new release comedy like ‘This is 40’. That’s just my take though, and I don’t think the film is bad enough to urge you away from. It’s just not getting my seal of approval. If it seems like your cup of tea, give it a shot. Just remember that I warned you to keep your expectations on the low side…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!