If The Guilt Trip does anything right from beginning to end, it’s the casting. Not only do Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand play off one another well, but they make a very convincing mother-son team.
It’s easy to believe Rogen as an embarrassed hard worker who tries to separate himself from his overbearing mother, and Streisand takes hold of that smothering role with great effect. She’s irritating at times, but that just means her performance is working.
But, what Dan Fogelman’s screenplay is missing is a reason to care about these characters and the road trip they embark on. We understand Rogen’s Alex is having troubles pitching an organic house cleaner to companies and we see Streisand’s Joyce trying to maintain a healthy relationship with her son. However, the film merely pitches those two motivations to audiences and doesn’t supply any support to keep us interested.
This lack of caring in The Guilt Trip goes on for about 35-40 minutes – or, what feels like that duration. This span could’ve been shorter, but I honestly couldn’t tell you while watching it.
The film rolls along to a scene where the duo stop off at a steakhouse and Joyce is handed the challenge of completing a massive dinner under an hour. If she wolfs down the meal by that time, it’s free. If not, it’s $100.
Having a good idea where this scene was going, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to it. I found myself pondering, “I wonder if she’s going to finish that steak…”
And, then I had an A-HA moment. This was the first time The Guilt Trip had asked me to care about anything going on. And, I was going with it. It was a shred of a climactic event. It’s a steak dinner, for goodness sakes! But, it’s all I needed to be brought back into the comedy.
From there, Anne Fletcher’s road movie becomes more tolerable. More jokes and banter land on their feet all leading up to a sincere conclusion that surprisingly doesn’t feel too sentimental. The Guilt Trip isn’t completely saved by the end, but it does qualify as harmless fluff.
It’s not surprising to see Rogen and Streisand also act as executive producers on the comedy. It explains why there’s so much amusing off-the-cuff improv and diva milking. But, what caught me off guard is Lorne Michaels’ credit as a producer. With the Streisand character occasionally coming across as a sketch persona, maybe the Saturday Night Live creator thought this was a good enough time to make Coffee Talk: The Motion Picture.