Laurel and Hardy. Abbot and Costello. Rowan and Martin.
Rogen and Streisand?
2012 has been a really good year for movies. While 2011 was generally lackluster, this year there have been a lot of interesting stories being told. One of the surprises has been the comedy pairings that have proven to be successful. Before 21 Jump Street, I never would have though Channing Tatum could do much of anything than look pretty and play the love interest. So it came as a real delight when he was so ridiculously funny when he was paired with Jonah Hill. Dylan McDermott isn’t a name associated with comedy either, but he was tremendous in The Campaign when playing off Zack Galifianakis and Will Ferrell. This year has been full of unexpected comedy from unexpected people.
Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand are not new to the world of comedy; Rogen’s ability to make people laugh is his bread and butter and Streisand has proven to have surprising comedic chops in her supporting roles in Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers (not great movies, but she was still funny). She was also good in What’s Up Doc?, but I’m guessing I’m the only person under 40 who has seen that movie. So the issue going into The Guilt Trip wasn’t if Rogen and Streisand could be funny, but if they could be funny together. You can put two funny people in the same movie, but if they have zero chemistry the film fails regardless of how funny they are individually.
Thankfully – and a little surprisingly – Rogen and Streisand work extremely well together. While The Guilt Trip is a bit of a trifle – sweet, but lacking a lot of substance – they sell the heck out of it. They are totally believable as an overbearing mother and son who embark on a cross-country road trip.
Andy (Rogen) is a scientist who has invented a revolutionary new cleaning product. He stops to visit his mother Joyce (Streisand) before embarking on a road trip to find a distributor for his product. Joyce has made her entire life about Andy; after his father died when he was eight, Joyce hasn’t dated nor done much of anything other than worry about and persistently call Andy. The night before Andy is scheduled to leave, his mother tells him a story about her youth that makes Andy see her in slightly different light. He invites her to accompany him on his trip and plans a surprise for her at the end of the journey that he hopes will make her happier. However, the two have a rocky journey – Andy isn’t a salesman and has a tough time pitching his product while Joyce can’t help but interfere and smother him.
At its heart, The Guilt Trip is a movie that is more emotional than you would expect. This is really a movie about a mother and son coming to terms with each other and learning who they are as people. For perhaps the first time, Andy sees his mother as a human being and not just “mommy.” Joyce has to learn to let her son go; she is struggling to have an adult relationship with the son that she is far too invested in. This was a much sweeter movie than I anticipated.
The Guilt Trip is fairly predictable and some of the bigger laughs of the movie are featured in the film’s trailer. While this is a funny movie, there are fewer laughs overall than a usual comedy. The film isn’t really breaking a lot of new ground and with different leads it would be pretty forgettable. But I found Streisand and Rogen to be so delightful together that I didn’t mind that there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the film. They have different comedic sensibilities, but somehow it works. It’s a good thing it does – The Guilt Trip is really the Streisand and Rogen show. There is a very small supporting cast that doesn’t have a whole lot to do. The leads have to do all the heavy lifting.
Some other quick thoughts:
- Brett Cullen has a small role as a cowboy that they meet on their trip. I knew that I knew him, but I couldn’t place from where. A quick look at his IMDB page told me that I knew him from everything; this guy has been in a lot of stuff (The Dark Knight Rises, Damages, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Justified, NCIS, The West Wing, etc.).
- I have always wanted to drive cross country – which is odd since I don’t like to drive – so I may have been more into the premise than some other people. When they discussed where to see the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube, I took note. I’m a big fan of the kitsch. And I’m also unsure of how long you are supposed to look at the Grand Canyon.
- I went to see this movie with my brother, who enjoyed is slightly less than I did, and I suggested that it would be fun for us to drive cross country. He did not share my enthusiasm; I received a very tepid reaction to the idea. He may be the only person who doesn’t think I am fun.
- Sorry to disappoint, but the audience for this screening was well behaved – no screaming babies and people managed to shut up and just watch the film. I’m hoping this is a new trend, though I’m not counting on it.
The Guilt Trip was a fun movie, but not mandatory viewing. Streisand and Rogen really elevate the film beyond the somewhat predictable and lackluster source material. It’s not a movie that needs to be seen in the cinema, but would be a fun night in as a rental. Or a nice movie to take your mom to.
The Guilt Trip opens nationwide on Wednesday December 19th.