"Yentl" goes yenta in "The Guilt Trip," a creakily old-fashioned comedy that forgot to pack the laughs along with the nudging and kvetching. Possibly the first American film in decades in which characters drive cross-country courtesy of process shots out the back window, this mother-son yakfest blows a gasket and all four tires before it even hits the road. With Seth Rogen in very subdued mode, his fans will smell this one a mile away; it might be a movie only their mothers -- or die-hard Barbra Streisand fans -- could love.
When was the last time an overbearing Jewish mother giving her schlemiel of a son a hard time about not being married was a major component of a big Hollywood film? So to behold Streisand's New York mom Joyce Brewster hectoring her visiting son Andrew (Rogen) about his myriad personal shortcomings is to revisit a musty mindset that the minor updates in Dan Fogelman's woeful script can't begin to freshen up.
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Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Other: A Paramount release. Rated PG-13 for language and some risque material. 95 minutes
The early scenes of Andrew's return from California to his childhood home are so embarrassing that you wonder if such impressive consistency can possibly be sustained. Andrew knows what he's in for, but that still doesn't help when Mom immediately starts in asking what happened to former girlfriends X, Y and Z, complaining that he went to UCLA just to get as far away from her as possible, pointing out that she hasn't had a date since her husband's long-ago death and then recommending that Andrew get therapy. Enough, already.
In an effort to connect with Andrew, Joyce unloads what she considers a bombshell of a secret: She actually had a boyfriend before she met her husband and loved him so much she named her only son after him. Considering it odd she never tried to look him up after his dad died, Andrew does research that reveals he's an executive in San Francisco. With an ulterior motive in mind, he invites Mom to join him on a drive across the country, during which he'll make stops in Virginia, Texas, Santa Fe and Las Vegas to hawk a nontoxic cleansing liquid product he has created to potential retailers.
The climactic visit to San Francisco to track down Joyce's former beau predictably plays on, and aims to stimulate, bittersweet emotions. At the same time, the easy-to-get point of the enterprise is to stress that the mother and son's prolonged time together has forced them to break through their various barriers, grudges and expectations to arrive at a more honest satisfying relationship. Yep, that'll do the trick every time.
"The Guilt Trip" provides heavy competition with director Anne Fletcher's previous films ("Step Up, "27 Dresses," "The Proposal") as to which is the most formulaic and conventional, but this one takes the cake for being the most visually unimaginative and clunky. Worse, even the most easy-to-please audiences will struggle to find more than a half-dozen laughs here, so bereft is the film of fresh comic ideas.
Rogen -- who for some reason sports about a one-day's grizzle of beard throughout -- drastically underplays, probably realizing that, with Streisand emoting so broadly, it was the only way to go. For her part, some combination of cosmetic expertise, cinematic enhancement and natural endowment makes Streisand look more like she's in her 50s than in her 70s, which is the actuality. Those who've always liked the singer-actress probably won't mind her here; for the nonfan, this is not the film that will change your mind.