‘The Guilt Trip’ Review
I imagine the pitch meeting went like this: "Producer: We got Barbra Streisand, we got Seth Rogen, we get 'em in a car. Release it around Christmas. I mean, you gotta take grandma somewhere during the Holidays. Executive: Are there life-lessons involved? Producer: Does the Pope crap in the woods? Of course there are."
Lo and behold, a year later, these two guys found themselves at the premiere for 'The Guilt Trip,' a movie that didn't cost too much to make and won't make that much of an impact but will empower everyone involved to one day strike again.
'The Guilt Trip' is paint-by-numbers to be sure, but there are some positives with the film. Like a quick lunch at Quiznos, you know exactly what you are getting. Barbra will do the "clueless Mom" bit, switching her tone of voice from baby talk to wizened sage depending on the implications of the scene. Rogen will be our onscreen eye roll, but also be not be so perfect that he couldn't do with a little mothering. By the end both sides will have given an inch and gained a newfound respect and love. And you - yes YOU the audience member - will be ashamed at how you find yourself a little bit choked up by the final scenes. (In 'The Guilt Trip''s defense, there is a wee bit of a twist in the third act that, somehow, I didn't see coming. Dammit all if it didn't get me.)
'The Guilt Trip' is among the least memorable experiences you are likely to have in a theater this year, and yet its component parts are admirable. Seth Rogen, dalliances with 'The Green Hornet' aside, is, indeed, a terrific film comic. His deep-voiced perplexed "erms" are well on their way to becoming national treasures. Barbra Streisand, younger readers may be shocked to discover, knows how to be truly funny and light up the screen. 'What's Up, Doc?' is one of the greatest comedies ever made, period, and while Babs' visage may have the map of Brooklyn-via-Minsk printed on it, back in the day she exuded enough sensuality to make her more than an ethnic attraction.
Perhaps it is my own familiarity with my the Jewish Mother Phenomenon, but I can't deny that Streisand really nails it. From perfect word choices like "slacks," describing busy places as a "zoo" plus a fascination with Greek yogurt and those little clips that can hang a purse from the side of a table, 'The Guilt Trip' has moments of verite straight out of a Frederick Wiseman documentary.
For what it's worth, there are no direct references to Jewishness in the film. Streisand slips one Yiddish term of affection ("tateleh") as well as asking her SoCal-based son "what do you know from galoshes?" but this is buried deep within many motormouth torrents of (s)mothering. If this decision to "tone down" the ethnic angle was a decision to perhaps broaden the audience, this is a failed decision. When you choose to get into a car with Barbra you know what you are setting yourself up for.
'The Guilt Trip' opens in theaters on December 25.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.