Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand may seem like an unlikely comedic duo, but their mother-son shtick in the road warrior flick “The Guilt Trip” makes for a pretty innocuous journey that’s bigger on heart than laughs.
Rogen – minus the F-bombs and pot smoking – plays a vanilla version of his usual rogue’s gallery of schlubby characters. This is a Rogen flick you can actually take your mom to see. Still single, his Andy is a struggling organic chemist. He’s hit the road with mom in tow to pitch a new green cleaning product called Sci-o-Clean to retailers like Kmart and Costco. And, Streisand (Roz Focker from the “Meet the Parents” franchise) gets another at-bat as a typical Jewish mother who obsesses too diligently over her son. As Joyce Brewster, Babs is in full yenta mode – meddlesome, a busybody, and an overall nuisance to Andy. Especially so when she pushes back his hair before a meeting, or nags him to drink plenty of water, or calls him 20 times before 7 a.m., and so on.
The pair trek from Newark to San Francisco, and as the 3,000 miles pass, the animosity peaks and dips. Dan Fogelman wrote the script with the same sentiment that peppered his last outing, “Crazy Stupid Love.” The comedy is mostly situational, such as: mom and son at a strip club; mom and son rent a car; mom and son get mistaken for lovers in a hotel. Floating just below the surface, however, is this tenderness of a mother evolving into a grownup relationship with her only child. Fogelman is onto something with his valentine to mothers, but it never reaches its full potential. Too many contrivances and buddy-comedy clichés will do that to a movie. Even though there’s a director – Anne Fletcher – it never feels as if anyone but Streisand and Rogen are calling the shots. Fletcher’s (“The Proposal,” “27 Dresses”) direction is dull and by-the-numbers.
Boston native Ari Graynor shows up to recite two lines. Adam Scott from “Community” and Colin Hanks (Tom’s son) are small supporting players. But, “Guilt Trip” is very much the Seth-and-Barbra show, and for the most part, they generate solid chemistry and make for a highly plausibly mother-son team. Do they get on your nerves? Yes. I could do without watching “Yentl” chow down a 4.5-pound raw steak and shrimp combo during an all-you-can-eat contest at a Texas restaurant.
Over the miles, Andy and Joyce discover details about each other, as they gradually get reacquainted. But they’re ultimately more endearing than funny. They fight, say hurtful things, make up and are closer in the end for it. Fogelman spoke to the mom in me, but just not loud enough.
While “The Guilt Trip” often feels like it’s on the road to nowhere, a sweet twist in the end steers the journey toward a satisfying destination.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE GUILT TRIP
(PG-13 for language and some risque material.) Cast includes Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. Grade: B-