Drama/Comedy/Romance. Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Brett Cullen, Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes, Rose Abdoo, Yvonne Strahovski, Colin Hanks. Director: Anne Fletcher
The trailers and posters for Anne Fletcher’s haphazard road movie are unequivocal.
Fasten your seatbelts for a rumbustious comedy of ill manners and painful home truths about a mother and her grown-up son who rebuild bridges during a 3,000-mile odyssey across America.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has other ideas.
He milks a few gentle laughs from the simmering tensions between his protagonists but The Guilt Trip trundles along most effectively as a mawkishly sentimental drama about miscommunication between the generations.
The scrappy script follows a tried-and-tested road map of cliches and revelations that unashamedly tugs heartstrings.
There are no detours to originality and the film’s ultimate destination in an oft-visited town called Tearful Reconciliation is signposted well in advance.
The film’s release ahead of Mother’s Day is coldly calculated.
Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) is an inventor who is about to embark on a tiring cross-country sales pitch to drum up interest in his awkwardly named product: Sciecoclean.
This eco-friendly cleaning fluid harnesses the natural goodness of coconut oil, palm oil and soy, but Andy’s skills as a salesman are, frankly, lacking.
“Develop some brand recognition and maybe in a year, we’ll revisit,” says one bored executive.
Before he heads off for eight days of meetings, Andy visits his mother Joyce (Barbra Streisand) and learns that she enjoyed a fling with a childhood sweetheart shortly before getting married.
“It was a trampy year for mommy,” quips Joyce, whose husband died when Andy was eight and has been single ever since.
Andy hits upon the brilliant idea of tracking down this man, and invites Joyce along on his road trip, with the secret intention of reuniting his mother with the one who got away.
Trapped for long periods in the driver’s seat beside the matriarch, Andy struggles to keep his emotions in check.
Along the way, they visit the Grand Canyon and Joyce gamely takes part in an eating contest at a Texas steak house, which requires her to guzzle four-and-a-half pounds of prime steak and all the trimmings in one hour.
“It’s like eating a poodle!” warns Andy.
The Guilt Trip runs out of gas as a comedy before mother and son have packed their suitcases or started bickering about the price of rental cars.
Considering this is essentially a two-hander, characters are sketched in disappointingly broad strokes and Rogen’s muted performance could be mistaken for boredom.
Thankfully, Streisand delivers a heartfelt and occasionally touching portrayal of a widow who needs to take that leap of faith and start dating again.
“You want me whoring myself out, wearing a thong?” shrieks Joyce unconvincingly.
A subplot which sows the seeds of romance between the lonely widow and a handsome cowboy (Brett Cullen) is a belated yet welcome diversion.
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