No Guilt Required
By Carl Kozlowski
There are two movies coming out this week that involve an epic journey, undertaken by gnomish creatures on a quest for enlightenment. One is Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. The other is The Guilt Trip, starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand.
Since I figure that, much like the Twilight and Harry Potter movies and its own predecessors in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, most people will either see The Hobbit at all costs or avoid it no matter what, you might be better served with a take on the much lesser-known The Guilt Trip, which comes out on Wednesday.
Basically a twist on the immortal John Hughes classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles with a nerdy son and his overbearing yenta of a mother replacing Steve Martin and John Candy’s businessmen on a cross-country road trip, Guilt has enough charms of its own to keep viewers from feeling guilty for buying tickets.
Rogen plays Andy Brewster, an entrepreneurial scientist who has invented a new household cleaner he touts as safer because it’s completely organic and therefore can’t poison anything in any way. The problem is he has no idea how to market the product, giving it a horrible name, ugly packaging and a horrific sales pitch.
As Andy drops in on his New Jersey-based mom, Joyce (Streisand), for a visit while on the road, he suddenly realizes she’s lonely and hasn’t dated a man since Andy’s father died when he was 8. Learning that Joyce has a long-lost love in San Francisco, he invites her along for the sales trip to California without telling her he hopes to hook her back up with her first boyfriend.
The resulting shenanigans are more grounded than Planes, with the biggest comic set piece a terrific extended scene in a Texas restaurant, where Joyce accepts a challenge to eat a 4-pound steak and lots of trimmings in less than an hour. Most of the movie’s many laughs come from the impressive comic dialogue written by Dan Fogelman, expertly executed by the surprisingly nimble interplay between its leads.
It’s often easy to forget what an ace comic actor Streisand is, due to the fact her singing career is so legendary and, in real life, she is famous for being a self-righteous diva. But when she lets her hair down in an everywoman role like this, or her turn as Ben Stiller’s mom in Meet the Fockers, it’s a particular delight to see her dig into relatable laugh-inducing moments.
Rogen, meanwhile, continues to up his game from his early raunch-dependent films and grow into a leading man who could eventually fill in Tom Hanks-style roles. Whether feeling henpecked by his mom, engaging in verbal battles with Joyce or experiencing the sad memories of his own first love, he shows more range than most comic actors of his generation.
Putting it all together is director Anne Fletcher, who did a similarly solid job with the 2009 smash hit The Proposal, giving Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds a film similarly at risk for being clichéd. She clearly has a knack for bringing everyman comedy to the masses, and in a Christmas movie season that’s heavy on spectacle, finding a simple yet highly effective film like The Guilt Trip in theaters can be almost as special as Charlie Brown finding his tree. It’s a gift to comedy lovers and a great flick for mothers and sons to share.