The Guilt Trip (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Guilt Trip (2012)

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Mama sometimes knows bestAndrew LIKE BannerI started off at war with myself watching The Guilt Trip.  First off, it stars Barbara Streisand, someone who I've tried to figure out why she's so famous but coming up short.  I admit that my overall exposure is low, but if she didn't win me over in Funny Girl or Prince of Tides then there stood little chance I'd love her.  Second, there's the matter of Seth Rogen.  I like him, he's done a lot of great work as the kind of mostly responsible nerd I've been friends with.  But he's repeatedly dipped into a well that doesn't fill-up very quickly and is starting to become the constant presence I'm annoyed with.

Expectations were low but I still wanted to have a good time watching the film.  In the face of all that I've either started to grow tired of or never understood I still liked this movie.  Yes, the plot is about as boilerplate as they come and the twists at times painful, but casting sometimes plays a big difference in quality.  Here I was able to see two performers doing what I thought was their standard schtick and when they came together are dynamite.

Even in scenes that do little to advance the film, Streisand is wonderful to watch.

Even in scenes that do little to advance the film, Streisand is wonderful to watch.

The Guilt Trip is not original by any reasonable use of the word.  It's another rendition of the long and storied tradition of the buddy-comedy road film, it just happens to feature family members.  Andy (Rogen) is travelling back home to see his mom, Joyce (Streisand) as part of an exhibition of a cleaning product that he invented.  While there she decides to let a bombshell loose on him, that he was named after a boy that she loved a long time ago, and that this boy became a great on the marketing circuit.  Since Andy has just the product to market, he decides to take his mom to meet her lost love now that dad has been long-gone, and maybe find someone willing to sell his stuff in the meantime.

The painful moments I had watching The Guilt Trip will be obvious to anyone who went through that synopsis (and I've certainly done it before).  Mama and son travel on the flimsiest premise possible and hit just about every contrivance along the way.  She's sad that he never succeeded with his High School sweetheart, so who can be surprised when a snowstorm puts them in a town where the old sweetie is the only one they know.  He's sad that she never started dating after dad died, so - wouldn't you guess - they find the most lecherous men right after they have a tiff that threatens to separate them.  It's all constructed, far too clearly, and hurts the execution.

But it does not destroy it.  Even in those moments of total construction the screenplay written by Dan Fogelman straddles the fine line between stating the obvious and two people digging up pain that's not obvious to the other.  The night spent at Andy's ex-girlfriend's house is the best example of this.  These scenes involve four good people, Andy maybe a little less so but still trying, who are talking about truths that seem obvious but not to everyone in the conversation.  There's one moment, so tiny with Rogen letting Andy's smile shrink into a black hole, that it's so clear that the truth of his former relationship should have stayed buried.  The best part is - mama knows this, and she tries to lessen the blow as much as she's capable of.

Seth Rogen does not do as well without Streisand, but is still enthusiastic enough to be fun.

Seth Rogen does not do as well without Streisand, but is still enthusiastic enough to be fun.

That moment is why, despite all the obvious problems, I'm still coming up with tears thinking of some of these moments.  They're overly fabricated, yes, but they still get at a bit of truth that is so wonderfully acted I can't fault the screenplay at all.  It's here that I have to give up my pride and pay tribute to Streisand.  She's absolutely fabulous in this role.  I couldn't believe how many times she hit just the right note, pausing while thinking about what to say to her son, launching into what she thinks is helpful, letting things build up just enough before saying the wrong thing.  It is a wonderful performance balanced by Rogen who does not fare as well in scenes without Streisand, but next to her attains a wonderful chemistry.

I can imagine people disliking this film but I don't know who would have the heart to hate it.  All I needed to think about was a very long argument with my mom this last summer where she broke down crying because I was willing to sit and listen to her.  You may have a dad that feels the same.  Despite its flaws, this movie does a great job at showing just how lonely it can be to grow old knowing that your children are still out there - and how great it is for them to come back.

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The Guilt Trip - TailThe Guilt Trip (2012)

Directed by Anne Fletcher.
Screenplay written by Dan Fogelman.
Starring Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen.

Posted by Andrew

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