There are bad movies. There are BAD movies. And then there’s The Guilt Trip, a cinematic abomination that offends by being heinously, obscenely bland. This is the blandest bland movie you’ll ever see, a comedy bereft of comedy and a road trip flick in which the most exciting occurrences feature a character eating a giant steak and getting her ears pierced. If that’s your idea of a great time at the multiplex, and if your enthusiasm for such an enterprise is only matched by your affection for Barbra Streisand, well, here ya go. If, like most of us, you demand actual content from movies when you shell out your ten bucks or so for a ticket, you’ll leave the theater in a state of heightened anxiety at best, and downright fury at worst.
This lazy slop from director Anne Fletcher and writer Dan Fogelman stars Streisand as Joyce Brewster, overprotective mom to struggling inventor Andy (Seth Rogen). When Andy needs to drive across the country to pitch a cleaning product to various big box retailers and other major potential clients, he invites mom along for the ride. His reasons for doing so are too convoluted to be addressed here, but before the pair leaves their starting point in New Jersey, you’ll wish he hadn’t bothered.
That’s because Streisand, always an irritating and showy screen presence, takes self-absorption to another level in The Guilt Trip. She vamps, struts, and hams her way from start to finish, bathing in the gratuitous close-ups, while delivering a performance of dinner-theater caliber one-liners and Jewish mother stereotypes. Rogen, who seems perpetually unsure what he’s doing in this movie, is positively subtle in comparison.
The road trip is such a tired, overdone storytelling format that the only way to make one stand out onscreen is to trump the modern Todd Phillips model by going even more over-the-top than, say, Due Date. If The Guilt Trip went to that sort of dark, sinister comic place, embarking on envelope-pushing terrain, there’s a chance something might have worked. The mother-son conceit is obvious, though in the right hands it could have some potential.
Yet it’s hard to imagine that Streisand would have gone for anything too risqué, so the movie flees in the opposite direction. This is the sunniest, least-daring comedy you could possibly imagine, a movie that expects you to laugh at a scene of Streisand embarrassing Rogen by calling him “sweetheart” before a business meeting. Ha ha ha. Again, the picture’s concept of naughtiness is a late-night Las Vegas ear-piercing. The shrill, money-obsessed Joyce is an embarrassing cliché and you can’t shake the feeling that if you were Andy, you’d get the hell away from her fast, even if she was your dear old mom.
The Upside: Seth Rogen isn’t terrible, even though he seems to practically beg the audience to free him from this inferno.
The Downside: It’s laugh-free, and Barbra Streisand is infuriatingly bad.
On the Side: Director Anne Fletcher’s The Proposal is a decent romantic comedy. Dan Fogelman wrote the so-so, if overrated, Crazy Stupid Love. They’re not exactly Scorsese and Schrader, or whatever, but what the heck happened here?