The Guilt Trip

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy
An inventor takes his overbearing widower mother on a cross-country road trip.
Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand, Adam Scott
Director: Anne Fletcher
Release: Opened Dec 19, 2012
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Editorial Review

Mom’s driving her son insane
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, December 21, 2012

“How’s your hangnail?”

Do you remember that one? It’s the flawlessly delivered punch line from an old routine by comic duo Mike Nichols and Elaine May, in which she played an overbearing mother to his exasperated adult son.

The Guilt Trip,” Anne Fletcher’s lifeless comedy about an overbearing mother and her exasperated adult son, has no flawlessly delivered punch lines. It doesn’t even have a hangnail.

Instead, it has a series of clunky, episodic scenes of ersatz intimacy in which Seth Rogen -- here playing an organic scientist named Andy Brewster -- tries desperately to play off of Barbra Streisand as she preens and poses for a camera she wants very badly to still love her. (She shouldn’t worry, it does.)

As Joyce Brewster, a middle-class single mom from New Jersey who accompanies Andy on a sales trip across the country, Streisand asks the audience to believe she’d actually be wowed by a budget motel and the prospect of a free continental breakfast. That’s just one of myriad whoppers that this patently dishonest, utterly undistinguished enterprise tries to get past viewers who might expect more, considering Streisand’s daffier, more liberated turns in the “Meet the Fockers” movies. (That “The Guilt Trip” is so poorly executed shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with Fletcher’s earlier comedies, the execrable “27 Dresses” and “The Proposal,” which owed its success to the genuinely fizzy chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.)

Admittedly, there are one or two memorable moments in “The Guilt Trip,” which was written by Dan Fogelman. The fearless, laser-focused Streisand of yore peeks out briefly during a come-to-Jesus speech Joyce delivers to Andy as he begs her to stop talking (“I don’t know what to say,” she mutters, her self-pity meter set at 11). And darned if the film’s payoff, when the duo finally reach San Francisco for a pivotal personal encounter, doesn’t land right in the sweet spot.

But such fleeting moments aren’t worth a tedious, cliched schlep that includes a painful stunt during which Streisand eats a four-pound steak and a pointless sequence when Joyce and Andy look at the Grand Canyon, turn around and leave, which turns out to be an apt metaphor for “The Guilt Trip” itself.

From Mike Nichols’s hangnail, the mind inevitably wanders to other, better movies about parent-child dynamics, eventually hitting on “Mother,” the 1996 movie starring Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds that, although no masterpiece, possessed a comparative wealth of observant psychological humor.

In a bizarro case of movie mix-and-matching, Brooks appears today in “This Is 40,” by frequent Rogen collaborator Judd Apatow. Maybe someone should get word to Apatow that the two would be perfectly cast as dad and son. “Father,” anyone?

Contains profanity and some risque material.