Monday, December 24, 2012

THE GUILT TRIP Is Good-Natured Schmaltz


- The Guilt Trip is pretty much what it seems - a fun, semi-schmaltzy, relatively inoffensive road-trip movie that pairs Seth Rogen, as the schlubby son, with Barbara Streisand as his naggy, overbearing Jewish mother. The movie is well-crafted, funny, and entertaining - though it's so mild that it also never really goes from chuckle-worthy to hilarious. This is a movie that Jewish mothers everywhere will probably love, and their Jewish sons (like me) will enjoy, but that will cause them to wonder when Seth Rogen's next edgier, more vulgar film (i.e. - one their mothers would hate), will arrive in theaters.

Of course, The Guilt Trip has to ride a fine line - because look, I can handle zombies, vampires, serial killers, and psychos - but seeing a Jewish mother on the big-screen, depicted in all her guilt-giving, overprotective, gleaned-from-Good Housekeeping-and-Oprah advice dispensing, confidence-depleting glory - well, that for me was *truly* scary. I mean, there's a moment in THE GUILT TRIP where Seth Rogen, pushed to the limit by his never-silent, always-nagging mother finally snaps, and just yells at her to shut up. Some audience members gasped, but I could only nod my head in painful recognition. This. right here, was Exhibit A for why generations of young Jewish boys have moved to LA and become neurotic writers.

Luckily, The Guilt Trip eases the pain by gradually softening Streisand's character and putting her through her paces. The story involves Rogen as Andy, a 30-ish single guy who lives in California, and has put his time and money into developing and trying to sell an organic cleaning fluid. Andy's future rests on what happens during an upcoming cross-country road-trip, where he's booked himself meetings with big chain stores like Walmart and CostCo to see if they'll agree to carry his product. Before he starts the trip, Andy stops back east to visit with his widowed mom, Joyce (Streisand). Andy is fed up with his mom within hours of being home, but then, a story she tells him gives him pause. Joyce confides in her son that, before meeting his father, she had a first love who she'd since lost track of, but still thought of fondly. Andy tracks down the guy, and finds out that he lives in Sacramento. Thinking that finding this long-lost love might be the key to finding happiness for his long-suffering mother, Andy - against his better judgement - invites his mom to come along on his road-trip, holding off on revealing his ulterior motive. And so the two set off cross-country, and booth soon find themselves well out of their comfort zones.

To screenwriter Dan Fogelman's (Crazy Stupid Love) credit, he seems to hit at all the right pain points that make any Jewish boy (or anyone with overbearing parents) cringe in recognition. Streisand's Joyce, of course, ends up interfering and screwing up her son's big meetings, forcing him to awkwardly listen to a "Middlesex" book-on-tape during their car-ride (Rogen promptly switches it off every time genitals get mentioned), and keeps prying into her son's dating life - forcing an awkward reunion with an old girlfriend in the hopes of playing yenta. But again, Fogelman also humanizes Joyce by having her find her inner shiksa and loosen up a bit as the movie goes on. It's a lot of fun to watch as Streisand gets wasted, enters an eating contest at a down-home Texas BBQ joint, and flirts with a very goyish cowboy who seems to fancy her.

Both Rogen and Streisand are quite good here. If anything, Streisand is a little *too* on-the-nose with her portrayal of Joyce, and tends to make her a little less sympathetic and more annoying than she probably should be. I'm never a proponent for watered-down characters - but man, Barbara truly is terrifying when she's in full swing. Like, enough where Jewish dudes may be cancelling J-Date subscriptions after seeing this movie and wondering if this is what they're in for. That said, her comic timing is pretty impeccable, and she and Rogen do a great job riffing off of one another (be sure to stay for the credits, where there are some truly hilarious outtakes of the two of them improvising). And Rogen is actually really really good here - handling both the comedic and dramatic parts of the film exceptionally well. This reminded me why Rogen is so good - because he can mix very dry, acerbic humor with a real sincerity. He has some fantastic, extremely funny line deliveries in the film. And, because most of the movie is relatively PG, on the occasions that Rogen does get a bit R-rated, it's extra-shocking and funny.

The movie also features some welcome cameos to spice things up a bit. Adam Scott, Yvonne Strahovski (making me really miss CHUCK), and Colin Hanks all appear. And director Anne Fletcher gives the movie a classic, 80's-ish road-trip flick sort of feel.

In any case, this is a nice little feel-good, good-natured comedy film. Just enough bawdy humor for Rogen fans, and just enough aw-shucks sweetness to make Streisand fans swoon and possibly shed a tear or two (moms everywhere may get a little verklempt). In short, the perfect film to take the mishpacha to following Chinese food on Christmas. And yeah, you gentiles (oy) might find this a fun / funny movie as well.

My Grade: B

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