Barbara Streisand as Joyce Brewster
Seth Rogen as Andy Brewster
Brett Cullen as Ben Graw
Adam Scott as Andrew Margolis Jr.
Ari Graynor as Joyce Margolis
Casey Wilson as Amanda
Colin Hanks as Rob
Yvonne Strahovski as Jessica
Jeff Kober as Jimmy
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Everyone has a mother like Joyce (Barbara Streisand); loving but smothering, interested but myopic, important but annoying. The kind of woman who claims her son (Seth Rogen) is the most important person in her life, far too important to allow him to live his own life. And certainly the last person you'd ever want to drive across country with.
Certainly director Anne Fletcher ("The Proposal") hopes so. Because if you don't, you will quickly see through the gentle hook of "The Guilt Trip" to the pale, clichéd film underneath.
So much so that if you were given this hook and asked to come up with the gags which would go with it, you would probably end up with a list not unlike the one writer Dan Fogelman ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") has come up with. Embarrassing mom talking him out of a choice he's already made because it's cheaper? Check. Having to listen to embarrassing novel with many sex scenes in it during the drive? Check. Embarrassing mom trying to hook him up with his ex-girlfriend? Check. Embarrassing mom calling him at all hours of the day and night? Check. His mom interrupting his meetings to tell him how he should be selling his materials? Check.
And when they run out of those they start pulling in some others, like that old classic about the free meal if you can eat a five-pound steak in under an hour. I was waiting for some old "I Love Lucy" chestnuts to get thrown in, but thankfully we were spared somewhat.
Not that the filmmakers are completely clueless. In between the well-worn gags and set ups, Fletcher and Fogelman have actually sat down and given some thought to Joyce and Andy's relationship and how to develop it. Joyce, who has deliberately chosen to have no life other than her son, reveals early on that he was named after the love of her life who was not his father, leading to their cross country trip. Joyce in particular consistently reveals how much more she understands about Andy and his life than he thinks she does, and how little she actually resembles the caricature he thinks she is.
Which would be worth a lot more if the filmmakers didn't insist on actually making a caricature out of her. Streisand actually handles it with aplomb, getting far more out of Joyce (most of the time) than is really there. Rogen, on the other hand, is reduced to muttering under his breath most of the time or shuffling his feet and looking embarrassed, with most of his natural comic timing repressed until the very end where it will make no difference.
There's nothing either original or particularly well done about "The Guilt Trip." The filmmakers have tied a batch of old tropes and a heavy-handed hook together, stood back and declared "We have made a story," but it takes more than that. It takes real love, like a mother for a child, and there's none of that here.