The award for the most physically uncomfortable film to watch in 2012 goes quite easily to The Guilt Trip. This 95 minutes of mother-nagging offers about 10 minutes of passable cringe comedy and 85 minutes of painfully unfunny gags that will make you want to crawl up into a fetal ball and pray for it all to end. This is what happens when the writer of Cars 2 and the director of 27 Dresses join forces. Even Seth Rogen who has a knack for improvising moments of levity in even his weakest movies has no hope here, with every attempt at tossing in a zinger thwarted by inept filmmaking and a dazed Barbara Streisand who seems convinced that if she talks fast and shrill enough, her character will eventually become funny. It doesn’t happen. The movie is a disaster and is possibly even less enjoyable than taking an extended car trip with your overbearing mother.
Rogen stars as a struggling bio-chemist (the first tough pill to swallow) who has sunk years of his life and all of his money into creating an eco-friendly cleaning product called Scioclean. He plans a road trip to pitch the product to everyone from K-Mart to The Home Shopping Network. Early on in the trip, he stops off to visit his NY mother played by Streisand, who leaves incessant voicemails for her son whenever she isn’t on camera. Naturally, she’s a nagger and a smotherer, one so bad that Rogen flew across the country to attend UCLA just to avoid. During the visit/grilling session the blabbermouth Babs reveals that she once loved a boy before being married so much that she named her son after him. Rogen is so caught off guard and confused that he hits the internet to find the mystery man. Turns out he’s alive, single, and well in San Francisco, which would be a perfect last stop on the cross-country road trip. So, he invites mama along with a secret game of elderly matchmaker planned for the conclusion. What could possibly go wrong when you lock an overbearing mother and a struggling son in a car that’s filled with luggage and secrets? Oh boy, zany antics are sure to follow.
From the opening moments that awkwardly slip in product placement for K-Mart, The Gap, and M&Ms along with a Lorne Michaels producing credit amongst an avalanche of cross-generation kvetching, it’s clear what type of bland comedy product that audiences can look forward to. This isn’t even a movie like Knocked Up that slips in improv gems amidst a well-worn structure. It’s dire, paint by numbers comedy from the word “go” and every punchline can be predicted many agonizing minutes before they arrive. Rogen is good at seeming natural under any circumstances and does admittedly slip in a few good lines (especially during a triumphant Shopping Channel audition climax), but for the most part he seems barely present and sticks to the script. Why he would even do the movie is a mystery. It’s not as if he hasn’t been appearing in hit comedies for five years with producing credits to bolster his bank account.
The movie is clearly a payday for Seth, but it’s hard to imagine how he needs it and it’s even more frustrating given that he’s one of the few comedy actors in Hollywood with the power to greenlight any comedy he chooses. Seriously, why waste that unique position on something like The Guilt Trip? As for Streisand, I suppose her involvement is more understandable. She might not be hurting for cash, but I’m sure she is desperate to reach the young folks in the audience and though hooking up with Hollywood’s golden stoner might be a way to make it happen.
As irritating as it is to see those famous faces wasting time and talent on The Guilt Trip, the real folks to blame for the disaster are writer Dan Fogleman (Fred Claus) and director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses). Aside from coming up with a vaguely commercial premise, these two can’t be accused of putting any sort of creativity into the project, delivering a drearily predictable narrative and the blandest visual filmmaking this side of Ed Wood. Shame on you.
The Guilt Trip is terrible. I suppose it fills a need by taking the place of the Fockers series to provide empty laughs to disappoint the entire family around Christmas. So, a need is met and a release date is filled. It’s just a shame that this is what passes for family comedies these days. There’s no reason why there couldn’t be a new Christmas Story-esque romp delivered by the new crop of Hollywood comedy heavyweights in time for the holidays rather than this sort of drivel. Seriously, when the major comedy set piece in a script involves Barbra Steisand eating a massive steak in Texas, surely someone involved could have realized the project was in trouble. If you need a comedy to distract your family over the holidays, check out a basic cable Christmas classic or even rent Albert Brooks’ Mother if you desperate for a little mother/son bickering. This movie will be disappearing from the public conscious almost instantly, so there’s no need for you to be one of the suckers who wastes money on a ticket before the flick mercifully vanishes from memory.