Children have an interesting range of interacting with one or both parents as they age. When they're little, they can't get enough of mom and/or dad. When they hit their late preteens, they want some space, while the early to mid and sometimes late teen years are filled with lots of push-back, arguing, I'd rather be dead than be seen with you mentality and even the occasional "I hate you" outburst. Things eventually come around sometime in the twenties and are usually pretty much smooth sailing until the parent sometimes becomes the child and things occasionally become testy again.
Of course, every relationship is different than the rest as there are no set guidelines or timelines about how things should or will play out. But if a parent refuses to let their child grow up completely, even if they're -- oh, I don't know, around thirty or so -- then all bets are off. That's the premise of "The Guilt Trip," a family comedy starring Seth Rogen as a man who, for reasons shaky at best, decides to invite his overbearing mom along with him on a road trip from Newark to San Francisco.
As directed by Anne Fletcher ("The Proposal," "27 Dresses") from a script by Dan Fogelman ("Crazy, Stupid, Love." "Fred Claus"), the film immediately exudes the aura and trappings of a TV sitcom. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine an opening credits narrator stating "Can a single man and his overbearing mother share a car on a cross-country trip without driving each other crazy?"
In full sitcom mode, the mom (Barbara Streisand going full throttle with her stereotypical Jewish mother character) doesn't seem to realize how she's still smothering and potentially embarrassing her son (Seth Rogen). He, on the other hand, silently puts up with her antics until he finally can't take it anymore and they have a falling out, however brief it might be, at which point she asks how wrong she's been for loving and trying to protect him, while he realizes what a jackass he's been.
That's right, the film offers few if any surprises in terms of how it plays out as the two travel from city to city as he tries to sell his environmentally friendly if horribly named cleaning product to buyers of large corporate stores. I'm guessing adult viewers and their older parents are supposed to see bits of themselves and their family members in those characters, and the laughs and maybe even a tear or two are supposed to stem from such recognition and the various little touches the filmmakers have applied to those universal (or at least American) familial truths.
For yours truly, a few moments were slightly amusing, but Streisand's portrayal of that stereotypical maternal figure grated me the wrong way from the get-go. As a result, I quickly became concerned -- and more than a little irritated -- that this would be the sort of road trip movie where I'd start repeatedly asking if the ending was here yet so that I could escape the monotony of the repetitive material and so-called comedic shtick.
And with essentially just two characters in play for the 95-some minute runtime (those they run into or interact with are present only for the duration of such scenes), this seemed like it would be a long and uncomfortable trip stuck in a car, hotel or meeting room with two characters, one of which wishes they could get away from the other.
But you know what? Despite that, the sitcom set-up and playing out of such parameters, the film sort of, kind of grew on me a bit. Not to the point that I can all-out recommended it, mind you, but at least it redeems itself enough by slightly segueing into something not as tiresome and repetitive as it initially seems it will be. While nothing special and certainly nothing novel, the chemistry between the leads works well enough for what the script asks of them, and both Streisand and Rogen appear game and comfortable enough to take the rote material and run with it.
Granted, that's not much of a glowing endorsement, and your mileage with the film and its elements will likely vary from mine and that of others. I was thankful it grew enough on me that I didn't end up pulling all of my hair out while watching it unfold, one grating beat after another. That said, I don't think I'll be taking another ride with "The Guilt Trip" again anytime soon. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.