Nobody is ever going to say that THE GUILT TRIP is good filmmaking. Seriously, it's not really even a good movie. Anne Fletcher may have a gift for putting big stars at ease in blockbuster scenarios, but her actual directing skills are serviceable (some may say hackey) at best, judging by her output to date. The writer, Dan Fogelman, however, is truly gifted. His screenplay for last year's CRAZY STUPID LOVE was among my favorites, especially amongst studio films. Fletcher and Fogelman's partnership for THE GUILT TRIP, however, doesn't yield such impressive results. The script is fairly skimpy, not terribly funny, utterly predictable, and consists of some long, drawn-out set pieces that often bring the story to a screeching halt. BUT...I kept asking myself, why did I have such a great time watching it?
The answer? Sometimes star power works.
This is a PHONE BOOK MOVIE. That is, Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, together onscreen for the first but hopefully not the last time, could have read said book and I would have been content. Seth Rogen is becoming a favorite of mine for his utterly naturalistic approach to material. He once again won me over as Andy Brewster, an aspiring entrepreneur, who takes his mother (Babs) along on a cross country road trip to sell his innovative cleaning product and to hook Mom up with her long lost love. Oh, it doesn't really matter, because this film is the best excuse I've seen in a long time to put this pair together. Perfectly cast as mother and son, Streisand and Rogen have true chemistry. They're a joy to watch, and as labored as the plotting is, you kind of just want to sit in a car with them as they listen to MIDDLESEX (hilarious choice), or
be a fly on the wall as she crunches M&Ms in bed, much to her son's consternation. Because the pair are totally invested in their roles, I was too, and cared enough about them to even shed a tear at the end.
Streisand hasn't been this loose and fun in many many years. Gone is the self-serious bucket of nails and left-side only posing. It's been replaced by someone who clearly knows her character, a needy, kvetchy but not unlikeable mom who gets a charge from spending time with her boy. It's sweet, tender, and blissfully un-ironic. She also looks great. Not for 70. She just looks great, period. There's not a whiff of "Rich Woman Slumming Through a Studio Programmer" vibe at all. Streisand seems to be having the time of her life making a heroine out of a coupon-clipping, boundary-free, yet surprisingly insightful woman. Of course, there's an endless, somewhat pointless sequence in which she must eat a 50 ounce steak in a Texas Honkytonk, but it's also entirely defensible to say it's fun to watch a diva chomp down on meat.
Rogen also seems energized by his co-star's presence. This is a very controlled performance, a slow burn which erupts time and again in just the right places. It's refreshing to take him out of his comfort zone where he's surrounded by his fellow slackers and examine who a guy like that has to operate in the real world. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the evolution of his sales pitches over the course of the film.
Now remember, I didn't say this was good. There are way too many useless celebrity cameos, which seem to exist solely so that each of them can say they shared the screen with Barbra. But really, Casey Wilson, Miriam Margolyes, Colin Hanks, Nora Dunn, Adam Scott, and Ari Graynor are way too good to be thrown away like this. And don't get me started on the technical elements, which are mostly flat, uninteresting compositions, dull production design, and overall simply professional in its best moments. Doesn't matter. I'll be the first in line to watch Andy and Joyce take a EUROPEAN GUILT TRIP!