It is to her everlasting credit that a famously exasperating perfectionist like Barbra Streisand could survive a limp noodle like The Guilt Trip. This cheesy comedy concerns a nerdy, 30-something loser named Andy (Seth Rogen) and his obnoxious, overbearing mother Joyce (Ms. Streisand) on a road trip from Manhattan to San Francisco that is understandably a vacation from hell. Eventually mother and son get to like each other a little better than when they started, but only after what seems like pages of discarded jokes from canceled TV sitcom pilots. Eight days in a car with these two is like eight weeks with shingles.
After two abominable Fockers movies, Ms. Streisand has gone on record saying she will never play any more rolling-voweled Jewish mothers, but that is exactly what she does here. Saving bottles to reuse several times over to save money, collecting ceramic frogs, noisily crunching M&Ms—she’s a pickled Fanny Brice. Mr. Rogen, who looks like Limburger cheese, has carved an inexplicable career out of playing dorks who make the word “retarded” politically acceptable again; but Andy is, to his mother, the perfect son who can do no wrong. Instead of wondering why he repels women like a goiter, she blames his bachelor status on the pathetic ignorance of liberated women today. In truth, he’s pudgy and plain as a wet mop, a college grad who can’t get a job. Now he’s invented a cleaning fluid nobody wants, and is on the verge of a cross-country mission to sell the product. In the inane small talk that overwhelms this thin little movie like a hailstorm, Joyce reveals she was once madly, passionately in love with another young man named Andy, who inspired her son’s name. Intrigued, he traces his namesake to a San Francisco advertising agency, and for reasons too specious to go into, this unlikely mother-son team drives away in a rented Dodge SUV. Without a defining narrative, the rest of the movie, lazily written by Dan Fogelman and tediously directed by Anne Fletcher as though intimidated into catatonia by the bigger-than-life Streisand, meanders through a series of dull pit-stop adventures that substitute for action. Joyce brings along a book on tape about a hermaphrodite. She carries a hook around to hang her purse from various tables because the floors are dirty. While Andy pitches his invention to deaf ears, Joyce gets hit on in a bar by a tough dude who gives her son a black eye. In Lubbock, Texas, she enters a humongous steak-eating contest where she is forced to swallow four pounds of rare sirloin without throwing up, and attracts the attention of a handsome cowboy who asks her for a date on his next trip to New York. Onward to the Grand Canyon, a Las Vegas casino and … but why go on? Wherever they land, there is nothing to write home about, and what happens is not worth repeating.
All you can really do is stare at every calculated movement of a great star drowning in material as bland and gummy as oatmeal. You can’t make caviar out of jujubes, but La Streisand
is living proof that you can die trying. Unfortunately she doesn’t sing, but the voice is like buttah. The wig looks good. You can’t take your eyes off the cherry talons she calls nails. She still holds attention. I don’t like to see the legendary star of Funny Girl and The Way We Were reduced to playing Molly Goldberg on a bad day, but sympathy goes just so far. Star vehicles, even for icons, are not what they used to be. She doesn’t need the money. So what’s the excuse? With The Guilt Trip, she can’t claim senior citizen victimization. She produced it.
The Guilt Trip
Running Time 96 minutes
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Starring Barbra Streisand,
Seth Rogen and Kathy Najimy