Director: Anne Fletcher
Perhaps the best advice on marriage is that you shouldn’t marry someone whom you can’t spend three days next to on a train. But as The Guilt Trip highlights, you can choose your romantic partners, but not your mom.
I admit, despite having been raised by a very cool single mom who does nag me once in a while, I’m probably not the target audience for director Anne Fletcher’s awkward misfire. This is not to say the film doesn’t have a heart, it’s just that its brain is in the wrong place. Much of it relies on a character: the “Jewish mother” (although I can’t recall an instance where religion is mentioned) that Barbra Streisand has been doing for years (see the Fockers films). With a mom this obnoxious and overbearing, I can see why her son (Seth Rogen) would prefer to be alone. I too would rebel against the notion that “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
There have been good films about mothers and sons – including Albert Brooks’ Mother and Andrew Wagner’s mumblecore version (starring his own parents) The Talent Given Us. And so, it leads me to believe Fletcher — a paint-by-numbers filmmaker. –is the wrong person to add any texture to this product. Unlike the Duplass brothers (who successfully told a story following a mom and her grown son in Cyrus), Fletcher employs dull basic compositions and favors telling instead of showing.
Ranking as one of the most off-putting, obnoxious mothers on screen, Streisand is so over-the-top, irritating and out-of-touch that it borders on abuse. Believing her son needs closure she insists they visit with his ex-girlfriend, who is now married with a second child on the way. This is such a cruel, disturbing and odd moment I have to wonder if Harmony Korine was hired in the development process as an uncredited script doctor.
For manufactured reasons, the plot requires Rogen, playing a west coast-based organic chemist, to take a cross-country road trip to sell an organic cleaning product to big box retailers. Inviting his mom along, he starts in his native Montclair, NJ before the trip reaches its required bittersweet ending in San Francisco. But a road movie, like life, is not about the destination, but the journey. And here is where it fails: the laughs are few and far between (although not required), despite Streisand desperately trying. This includes a free four-pound steak (if she can finish it in an hour) in Texas, and a stop at a topless bar (she thinks its tapas, ha!).
Where the film could gain much-needed heart is during these in-between moments. Instead of having exchanges of genuine detail it plays it safe to the point of avoiding risk, and where is the fun in that?
The Guilt Trip is now in wide release.
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