The Guilt Trip
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013
The Guilt Trip isn’t exactly a horrible film, it’s not laughably bad, but it is frustratingly below par and without laughs at all. One feels mean saying this, because the characters would be fine if they were neighbours in your street, and the story of a mother-and-son road trip across the United States is well-meaning and could be ripe for emotional depth and humourous riffing on home-truths. But it’s just not.
Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) is a nerdy young scientist trying to sell his newly-developed cleaning products to corporations across the company. His lack of character makes Andy a very dull boy, loved by no woman other than his mother (Barbra Streisand) who, when he visits for the weekend, dotes on him in a fashion which may resonate with many in the audience. The incessant phone messages, the offers of food/clothing (“I got you some underwear in the Gap sale!”), the fussing (“Stay hydrated!”) and wanting to spend time together – on his first night home, Joyce invites her women friends round and proudly boasts about her son, getting facts wrong as proud mothers often do – all set up the relationship of the eye-rolling child who puts up with the overzealous, under-appreciated mother.
When widowed Joyce confides in her only son about the boy she loved as a teen, Andy decides to take his mom along on the road as he makes his sale pitches. Cue: lots of laboured, unfunny scenes about listening to “embarassing” books on the car stereo (though a novel by one of America’s brightest and genuinely respected authors is hardly joke-fodder) and Joyce calling “Good luck, honey!” as Andy goes into his next doomed meeting.
Director Anne Fletcher scored higher with The Proposal, 27 Dresses and Step Up, doubtless because in those films there was actual chemistry between the stars, some of whom danced, most of whom had a gift for making their co-star look attractive or funny.
By comparison, here it’s all very nice, and on occasions you think you’re on the cusp of something meaningful, but then a line is killed by bad timing and the whole thing just feels empty, eliciting no connection with the audience through laughter or tears. Despite being executive producers, both Rogen and Streisand seem like reluctant hired hands on somebody else’s film, faking interest in one another, their lines from an extremely bland script mostly forced.
At the Oscars last week, Streisand got up and sang “The Way We Were”. A superstar in her younger acting days, but latterly reduced to playing sassy mommas in the likes of the Meet the Fockers films, in the shadow of The Guilt Trip her Oscar number seems awfully wistful.