Once in a while, a movie comes along that feels as if everybody must have been so excited about its concept that writing the actual script was a mere afterthought. Such is the case with the pairing of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand as mother and son in tepid comedy The Guilt Trip, which showcases a genuine rapport between the duo — and little else.
Rogen is Andrew Brewster, a nebbish young inventor who has come up with an organic cleaning product called Scieoclean, which understandably can't be pronounced correctly by anyone (think science meets clean). Streisand, as his mother Joyce, embodies all the qualities of the stereotypical Jewish mother, from her overbearing, meddlesome ways to a preoccupation with ensuring Andrew is hydrated and well fed.
As Andrew prepares to embark upon a cross-country car trip to hock his product, he decides to bring his widowed mother along in a surreptitious attempt to reunite her with a lost love now living in San Francisco. This flimsy conceit sets off an episodic road movie that checks off such staples of the genre as car trouble and hitchhikers while leaving time for the sight of Streisand attempting to eat a giant steak, in a bid to not pay for it, and the uncomfortable on-going enjoyment of the audiobook version of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel about a hermaphrodite, Middlesex.
Any attempt to imbue the story with greater emotional depth along the way is consistently undermined by the manipulative, slow fade-in of a couple spare notes on the piano or the low sighs of some strings, as if reminding everyone that this is "a moment." There are surprisingly few big laughs and a dearth of memorable set pieces.
Time and again, scenes are content to rely instead on the formidable talents of its leads, as the two labour to wring humour out of situations where there is little to be found on the page. The most remarkable thing about the film, then, is that they actually do. In their relationship, they manage to showcase a familiarity with each other that earns the occasional chuckle.
By the time they're returning the rental car and wrapping up Middlesex, it's evident that Streisand and Rogen make a perfectly charming mother and son team. It may not be the most likely of unions, but the inspired casting helps camouflage some of the script's glaring deficiencies.
It still doesn't mean you'll want to hit the road with them again anytime soon though. (Paramount)