The Guilt Trip
Posted December 19, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
What We Disliked:characters aren't likable, script isn't funny
At one point in the film, both Andrew and Joyce start drinking just to cope. Oh, how I empathized.
The Guilt Trip isn’t a film. It’s an advertisement thinly disguised as a road trip movie. Seth Rogan and Barbara Streisand visit the headquartes of Kmart, Costco, and finally the Home Shopping Network. They drive a Chevy, rented from Budget, and eat at McDonald’s. Streisand mentions The Gap several times, and snacks on M&Ms at least twice. They reference Amazon.com, and a shot is devoted to a Coke-a-Cola sign. Now, ads on TV and YouTube are free to watch. The Guilt Trip is an ad that costs you ten bucks for an evening showing. It isn’t even a funny ad.
Andrew’s (Rogan) widowed mother Joyce (Streisand) doesn’t just mother him at his age, she smothers him, calling him several times a day, leaving lengthy messages. Andrew, a biochemist, makes a rare visit to see her. During his visit, Joyce finally tells Andrew about her first boyfriend, Andrew Margolis, who was the love of her life, the man whom her son is named for, but who let her slip away when they were young. Andrew digs around, and finds out that Margolis is still alive–and single. Andrew asks his mother to go with him on a cross-country road trip, under the pretense of spending time together. They stop at the aforementioned corporate headquarters along the way to sell his invention, Scieoclean, an organic household cleaner. Obviously, his real agenda is to take his mother to her old flame’s residence, hoping they’ll reunite, and his mother will finally be off his back.
In other road trip movies, there’s kooky, memorable characters for the heroes to meet along the way. In the Harold and Kumar series, the pair meet a coked-up George W. Bush, a demented version of Neil Patrick Harris (played by himself), and a helpful but homely redneck and his totally hot wife. But in The Guilt Trip, Andrew stops to meet one bland corporate suit after another, none of whom make any kind of impression.
Of course, the suits aren’t meant to be the punchline, but are part of the comic equation. They’re the baseline, setting the norms of social behavior. Andrew is more uptight and rigid than the baseline, and Andrew’s mother is the wacky character, breaking social conventions and embarrassing him in front of the boring suits, and everyone else as well. In other words, he’s straight man, and she’s comic foil.
We’d laugh at Andrew’s plight if we didn’t identify with him. Andrew’s oblivious mother does not listen and simply will not shut up, and nothing she says is funny (imagine Jill from Jack and Jill, sans the toilet humor). There is exactly one good joke in the entire movie, and it’s Andrew’s, not Joyce’s. Streisand just doesn’t have anything to work with. At one point in the film, both Andrew and Joyce start drinking just to cope. Oh, how I empathized.
The casting doesn’t work at all. Rogan works in his slacker roles, but he’s playing an uptight science nerd. The role needs a Michael Cerra or Christopher Mintz-Plasse. And Streisand is too old to play Rogan’s mother, given the backstory. Do the math, it makes no sense.
The film looks like a low-grade sitcom, using only the most basic of filmmaking techniques. There were moments in the movie where I wasn’t even looking at the screen. There was no point in it. There aren’t any good sight gags or slapstick. Andrew gets punched in the face once, but that’s about it. Joyce should have been the one punched in the face. That would have been funnier, and a whole lot more satisfying.
I’m puzzled why The Guilt Trip gets a December release, when from a marketing standpoint, it looks like the perfect Mother’s Day money-maker for the studio. That’s all it is, a product, designed to make money, and sell other products. It has two stars handling, consuming, and talking about products, in a safe, formulaic story. As a producer, this is something you would want to make, and release on a holiday of a similar theme. After all, it doesn’t have to be good to make money. It just has to look like what the consumers want at the right time. As a consumer of movies, on the other hand, you wouldn’t want any part of this at any time of the year, summer, winter, fall or spring.