REVIEW: The Guilt Trip [2012]

Score: 4/10 | ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: December 19th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director(s): Anne Fletcher
Writer(s): Dan Fogelman

“This place smells like strawberry gum”

I never would have thought the aspect of The Guilt Trip I most dreaded would be its one saving grace. Barbra Streisand has never been—and still isn’t—one of my favorite movie stars and the prospect of her playing an overbearing Jewish mother was not an appealing one. I assumed if anything could save what appeared to be a lame pastiche of cinematic tropes mixing the road trip with the out-of-touch parent/child relationship, Seth Rogen would be it. But while his attempt at veiled anger and non-existent public speaking skills was to mumble lines and look awkward for the duration, Babs made the most of a thankless role and performed its annoying blemishes to perfection.

Even so, however, playing a part as it should be played doesn’t make a trite story about uninteresting people palatable. It’s too bad too because screenwriter Dan Fogelman had been on a bit of a roll with some enjoyably witty scripts the past couple years. Paired with Anne Fletcher—director of the surprisingly fun The Proposal—I figured there’d at least be a chance this cross country trek could intermittently endear and humor through its boring premise. Instead The Guilt Trip only thinks it’s smart by setting up its obvious reveals at start before letting the long journey to their fruition ruin any impact it might have obtained with subtlety and nuance.

In truth, no one is buying a ticket for either of those traits. No, audiences hope to see their mother/son issues exacerbated to the nth degree and put onscreen to chuckle and reflexively remark about how ‘that’s so what happened between me and my mom too’. It’s a farce at best with a few big laughs helping get us through the majority’s uncomfortable situations and instances screaming for an eye-roll. Because that’s unfortunately the experience I had—laughing at myself for joining the pack when I knew whatever we were giggling about wasn’t in the least bit funny. That’s the beauty of public theater, a social mimicking with the propensity to confuse us into thinking something horrible may not have actually been that bad.

But even at its basest level of plot lies no real insight or intelligent discourse. Andrew Brewster (Rogen) is a chemical scientist who created what we’re made to believe is the best and safest cleaner on the market but whose sales charisma is nonexistent. Desperately trying to sell it with corny jokes and dry history, it’s no surprise he can’t get halfway through a pitch without receiving a condescending, ‘thanks for coming’ as the prospective client walks out the door. No, this whole contrived, misguided occupational path does nothing but give us the opportunity to have Rogen and Babs argue so that her advice can inevitably save him from bankruptcy. Everything is so neatly packaged that no amount of intrigue or surprise can be included.

Why is Joyce invited on her son’s trip in the first place? So he can play matchmaker for her and an old flame just like he doesn’t want her to do with him and his—poor Colin Hanks and Yvonne Strahovski taking a paycheck for a wasted subplot. Why can neither of the Brewsters find romance in their isolated lives? Oh, it’s because they’ve both become psychologically hindered from doing so by the other. There is absolutely no room for spontaneity. Even what should be a funny joke at the rental car store with Babs telling Rogen to ask about a deal becomes a poorly executed, rushed punch line of her being proven correct matter-of-factly by Rick Gonzalez about the safety of small cars in the snow.

Bad timing and poor delivery ruin so many jokes that The Guilt Trip‘s one hour and thirty-five minute runtime started to make me think I read 1:35 wrong and it was actually one hundred and thirty minutes instead. How many bad pitches with coconut and palm tree props must we watch to get the point he sucks at sales? How many monotonous exchanges must we endure between mother and son tiptoeing around each other’s baggage before they erupt in honesty? If only Fogelman had infused his script with more asides like 50oz steak challenges or the intrinsic lameness of the Grand Canyon, we might not have acknowledged the redundancy of the rest.

The climactic moments of his job trajectory and her reunion with her first love are cute despite their lack of surprise and supporting roles from Brett Cullen and Nora Dunn do infuse a bit of humor. But when you look at the whole, I’m not sure you could see it as anything more than an overly sentimental slog through tropes we’ve seen executed just as bad previously. The film offers nothing new in terms of enjoyment and ultimately loses its wholesome family fun card with an unnecessary amount of profanity trying to make overwrought screaming seem emotionally powerful. I admit I had low expectations going in, but it couldn’t even meet those.

[1] Seth Rogen stars as Andy Brewster and Barbra Streisand stars as Joyce Brewster in Paramount Pictures’ The Guilt Trip (2012)
[2] Seth Rogen stars as Andy Brewster and Nora Dunn stars as Amy in Paramount Pictures’ The Guilt Trip (2012)
[3] Barbra Streisand stars as Joyce Brewster in Paramount Pictures’ The Guilt Trip (2012)

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