Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand buddy up in enjoyable ‘Guilt Trip’
BY RICHARD ROEPER Columnist December 18, 2012 5:48PM
Andrew (Seth Rogen) brings along his mother, Joyce (Barbra Streisand), on a cross-country road trip in "The Guilt Trip." | Paramount Pictures
‘THE GUILT TRIP’
Andrew .....................Seth Rogen
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Anne Fletcher. Written by Dan Fogelman. Running time: 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for language and some risque material). Opening Wednesday at local theaters.
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:09AM
When you think of Barbra Streisand, you think: serious legend.
Old-school icon diva, singing and acting up a storm through a filtered lens, flicking her fingernails at the screen and reminding us with every inch of her performance she’s a major S-T-A-R.
When you think of Seth Rogen, you think: amiable stoner.
Graduate of the Apatow School of Comedy, as likely to be bonding with a bong as another human being onscreen, chuckling and riffing his way through hard-R comedies, reminding us with every inch of his performance he’s a big G-O-O-F.
A Streisand/Rogen pairing in a road trip, mother-and-son comedy? Of all the big holiday releases, I can honestly say “The Guilt Trip” was about 16th on my must-see list.
But no matter what the prospects, we always enter a screening with an open mind, rooting for the movie before the opening credits, hoping a gem will spring from a pairing and premise not exactly in our wheelhouse. And how about this? “The Guilt Trip” turns out to be one of the year’s more enjoyable surprises: a smart, engaging, sweet comedy with Streisand and Rogen shining in one of the better buddy movies in recent memory.
Not that they’re buddies in the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones mold. She’s the Jewish mother who calls him 15 times a day. He’s the slump-shouldered son who sighs every time she calls — but would be worried sick if he didn’t hear from her every other hour.
Notwithstanding a little Focker here and there, it’s been 16 years since Streisand appeared in a substantial film role. Now 70 but looking pretty darn hot in her grandma jeans and Jersey hairdo, Streisand delivers an authentic, legitimate performance in a part that could have been pure stereotype.
Of course, Streisand can’t totally diffuse her own star power as Joyce Brewster, middle-class widow and smothering mom to her adult son. Even when she’s wearing sweats, gobbling Peanut M&Ms as her bedtime snack, pinching pennies and dishing with her girlfriends, it’s impossible to dismiss our awareness of her presence. But to the credit of Streisand, director Anne Fletcher, writer Dan Fogelman and of course, Rogen, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and settle in for a breezy, road-trip comedy.
A whip-smart chemist, Andrew (Rogen) has come up with an eco-friendly cleaning product. The ingredients are so natural and harmless you can literally drink it. The problem is, he has no idea how to sell it. In pitch meeting after pitch meeting, Andrew is just getting warmed up when the prospective clients start checking their iPhones and closing their notebooks. He loses them at hello.
The solution to his dilemma is patently obvious, but we wouldn’t have much of a movie if Andrew were to hit a home run in his first at-bat and become a millionaire. So we get a rather labored set-up in which Joyce drops a bombshell about her past on Andrew, who then invites her to accompany him on a cross-country sales excursion. Andrew knows this is a bad idea, but we know this is the real beginning of the movie.
There are moments when you question why Andrew sticks to one selling path when it’s so obviously failing. There are moments when you question how Joyce could be in her eighth decade on the planet and still be so oblivious to so many things — except we know moms like that.
We get one exchange after another in which Andrew and his mother spar, fence, dance around deeper issues, bicker, reconcile and chit-chat in a manner that feels utterly real and is thoroughly entertaining. Streisand and Rogen simply click, whether he’s expressing exasperation at her meddlesome ways, exploding at her or cheering her on as she attempts to wolf down an insanely huge steak in less than an hour. (The sight of Barbra Streisand stabbing a fork into a 50-ounce steak and power-eating all that red meat is unforgettable.)
“The Guilt Trip” throws in a few surprises, but even the twists and turns are gentle on this friendly, winding road. This is a movie about a son and his mom you can watch with your mom.
When most comedies end, we’re all too ready to say goodbye to the main characters. It’s always a good sign when the end credits roll, and we welcome the gag reel because we want to spend just a little more time with these actors and the people they’re playing.