Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Guilt Trip (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Guilt Trip

Oy vey. We have one overbearing mom here folks and she is played by the legendary Barbra Streisand. "The Guilt Trip" is the latest self-deprecating comedy starring Seth Rogen. Rogen, who has a natural likable charm, in the manner of a young Albert Brooks, predictably stars as Andy Brewster, an aspiring corporate inventor. While this is nothing inspired for Rogen, (he worries, frets, smirks and frowns, as he has done in many other outings) it is hard not to like him. He has his friendly, anxious and irritable persona down to a science.

Andy's semi-sloppy helicopter-mom Joyce (Streisand) calls constantly---seven times a day---and he duly deletes each message. He decides to visit mom on the way to a business trip and gets henpecked:

"Why can't you settle down and find a nice girl? Do you have sexual problems?"

Etc etc. Streisand manically goes on about her therapist, her hair, her makeup, her non-dating and the love she has for peanut M&Ms, to her son's increasing discomfort. Mom goes on to reveal that some other man, also named Andy, was the true love of her life with intimate details. Andrew is confused. In an apparent stab at being more amiable to his domineering mom, he invites her on a business road trip across the country.

At times Streisand's histrionics do become wearing, but just when you want to throw a whole bag of popcorn at Barbra, a frenetic chemistry builds between Rogen and the iconic Streisand.

This is not to say that she gets a free pass here. This comedy is filled with some needlessly silly stuff (like the mom finishing a four pound steak for a hundred bucks, not to mention carrying on, at a stripper's bar, or gambling) and most of it sillier than John Waters. And not very interesting, given that there is so much back and forth between it all. It was reported on the David Letterman show that the story is based on an actual drive that screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love) took with his own mother but I doubt their experience was as goofy as this film.

"The Guilt Trip" does set out on a novel path: a romantic comedy formula using the dynamic of a mother and son. At first Andy is reluctant, then he actually likes being with his mom, then of course, there are the usual miscommunications and harsh words just like in the usual romantic films.The two do possess a harmony and a solid heartfelt connection. The scenes that work are the ones where manic mother and badgered son are sharing some rapid fire repartee.

The film goes bland in its forced poignance though, especially near the end when it dives into an attempted meeting with Joyce's unrequited love.
Overall, the comic strength of "The Guilt Trip" is in its recognizability. We might know guys like Andy and mothers like Joyce.  We laugh even though we know what's coming, in the manner of a lukewarm Judd Apatow comedy, although its single joke of the ever-present mother who won't butt out is more like a skit than a full-length feature. Be this as it may, "The Guilt Trip" goes down easy and does manage to make you laugh a bit. The last scene in particular with Rogen and Streisand going their separate ways at an airport (as both pairs of eyes and smiles tilt quizzically in identical ways) is very touching as is the way in which they take leave from one another.

These quick strokes at the end give "The Guilt Trip" a much needed push, off-setting a bit of its warm predictability.

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