The Guilt Trip is a perfectly pleasant movie, safe to take your grandparents to and not unbearably obnoxious. There are no huge laughs but it doesn’t overdo the dysfunction schtick and Barbra is adorable with her hot flashes and mistaking similar cars and coupon obsessions.
Andrew Brewster (Seth Rogen) has invented an environmentally friendly cleaning product with a confusing name that he’s trying to sell to stores like Kmart. It’s not a very funny product but it’s an easy MacGuffin to establish that he’s unsuccessful, he wants to be successful, but he needs to learn a lot (somewhere around the end of act 2, beginning of act 3) to achieve that success.
Joyce (Barbra Streisand) is his mother. He visits her after the Kmart meeting but before his big road trip. The night before he leaves, Joyce tells him about the lover she had before his father, Andrew Margolis. Andrew Brewster (named after Margolis) locates the guy in San Francisco and invites Joyce on his road trip, thinking he’ll hook them up in the end. Now that’s a much more reasonable contrivance than the cleaning product. A road trip with mom may be fuel for comic misadventure, but reconnecting her with an old flame makes sense, although the fact that Margolis happens to be in advertising is pretty convenient.
I usually hate dysfunctional family comedies because the attitude is usually, “Oh, that’s just family. Everyone’s family acts up, but you’ve got to love them because that’s family.” When really in these movies, the behavior is truly abusive. The Fockers, who make me laugh in spite of myself, are really abusive. It’s really not funny to belittle your loved ones and manipulate them into doing things that serve you at their expense. No matter how many d*ck injections Stiller gives DeNiro, families should be a source of love and support. At least they should strive for that, no matter how misguided or humorous the reality of that turns out. Death at a Funeral (remake), Jumping the Broom and The Fighter (not a comedy but utterly terrifying to me) are recent examples of movies I felt forgave family characters for acting out of selfish ego and never made them accountable for the damage they were doing, whether for the sake of comedy or for overcoming a real life struggle to become a champion.
The Guilt Trip is a pretty healthy family comedy. Joyce is up front right away sharing a story about her past that could inform why Andrew has some confusion about their relationship, and possibly how it has informed his own relationship troubles. Naming him after a former lover is pretty messed up though. Andrew has a good system of dealing with Joyce’s neuroses too. She leaves him a ton of voicemails over the opening credits, and then Andrew calls her back and addresses every question in a single message. It’s annoying that she can’t just back off, but there’s no reason for him to be mean or disrespectful, so he’s not.
Now the presumed hilarity that ensues when Joyce and Andrew hit the road is mild at best. Joyce is obsessed with the minor, playing her cell phone slot machine game, refilling her water bottles, visiting tourist spot gift shops. Streisand is so spunky doing her coupon-obsessed overbearing neurotic schtick that it works as a pleasant awkwardness. She’s being kind so neither the film nor Andrew are insulting her. He just may want her to keep quiet when he’s in a meeting. Andy complains a lot and rants but never quite finds the kicker to a joke. Perhaps Rogen needed more takes to warm up and Streisand liked fewer takes, or maybe Rogen was just reining it in.
What are meant to be big set pieces really are not. Going to a strip club with your mom should be hilarious. It just can’t be when it’s a PG-13 strip club where all the dancers keep their lingerie on. In case you’re wondering, they got a flat tire and it was the only place they could pull over. Actually, it wasn’t a flat tire but I won’t spoil the twist. It’s not really a twist. Joyce also agrees to eat a 50 oz. steak within an hour to get it for free. It’s funny because she’s so little! And because nobody’s seen The Great Outdoors.
The road trip does illuminate Andrew for Joyce. The assumptions she made about his love life are shattered when they meet his high school ex (Yvonne Strahovski), and Andrew’s business problems are true of most novices to any industry. He won’t take good feedback on his product’s unwieldy name or bottle color, things he committed to before testing them out, and basic things that industry experts will know. Imagine if that were an aspiring actor or musician and anyone telling him to change was some sellout who just didn’t understand his art, man. This is practical business and hopefully it’s a good moral that any startup should be flexible and learn from his first mistakes, because that’s how you get good. Actually, the one scene where Andrew takes Joyce’s advice and delivers an awesome presentation to HSN is the closest The Guilt Trip comes to a laugh out loud scene.
I can imagine taking my grandmother to The Guilt Trip as a safe time passer. Grandma would still complain about the horrible language, but it’s the cleanest you can get in this corrupt, vulgar society. I no longer have a grandmother to force to grudgingly enjoy my favorite pastime of the cinema, but there is a whole new generation of kids looking for something to do with the grandparents and The Guilt Trip is a safe bet for all. Also if any kids like Streisand in this and then go watch Funny Girl, that’s a win.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.