The dysfunctional family and the road trip — they have been two time-honored staples of cinematic comedy for decades.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Guilt Trip feels stale and predictable, despite the presence of two established stars that have done much better work elsewhere.
The film marks the first starring role for Barbra Streisand in 16 years, playing Joyce, the well-meaning but hopelessly overbearing New York single mother of Andy (Seth Rogen), a struggling inventor in Los Angeles who travels the country trying to pitch his latest organic cleaning product to retailers.
When his latest visit turns unbearable, Andy tries to find a date for his mother, hoping that a relationship will curtail her pestering in his affairs. Out of desperation, he arranges a road trip to attempt a reunion with one of Joyce’s old flames without her knowledge.
On the surface, these two characters are compelling, and even relatable, which might have formed the basis for a character-driven comic examination of families separated by geography and generation gaps.
Instead, screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) settle for a broad, by-the-numbers approach that foreshadows many of its gags in advance. For example, when Joyce explains that it never snows in Tennessee, you know it’s going to start snowing. And when she claims she will keep quiet during one of Andy’s presentations, you know that one of her remarks will ruin the whole thing.
Streisand and Rogen each manage some amusing moments, but they aren’t given much of a chance by an obnoxious film that paints her as a shrill nag and him as a passive loner. Streisand’s obnoxious mugging is more tedious than consistently funny.
The dynamic between the two is conceivable, that they share a family bond despite each other’s annoying quirks, but the script is based almost entirely on audiences buying for one second that a financially strapped Andy would ever take Joyce on an impulsive road trip of this nature, for reasons so ridiculous.
As a result, many viewers likely will wind up creating a road map in their head, counting down the states the duo needs to pass through before the cross-country bickering can stop.
Rated PG-13, 95 minutes.