Road movies are usually very predictable: the characters embark on a journey, and learn something and become different at the end of the their trip. Despite its formulaic nature, The Guild Trip is still a very entertaining comedy about a mother and son, who begin to understand each other better because of their shared time, trapped in a car together for a whole week. The enjoyable road comedy is made all the more funny because of the inspired casting of Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as the mom and son who set off on a car trip cross country.
Andy Brewster (Rogen) is a low-level scientist who left his job at the EPA, to start his own business – a eco-friendly line of cleaning products. He’s planning on traveling crosss-country, hitting up the corporate offices of places like Costco, K-Mart, and Ace Hardware, hoping that he’ll be able to sell his cleaning products. Unfortunately, his sales pitch is dull as beige wallpaper. Each time he gives his spiel, his audience members invariably start fidgeting, eyes glazed over, and often Andy’s is stopped before he finishes his introduction.
While visiting his mom Joyce (Streisand), the two share a heart-to-heart because she’s worried about his sad love life. During their conversation, she talks about a man she fell in love with when she was a young woman – Andy Margoles, whom she named Andy after. Conveniantly, she remembers the name of the advertising agency he worked for all those years ago, and even more conveniently, after a quick search on Google, Andy was able to track his namesake down, to San Francisco. Deciding to reunited the pair, he invites his mom for the trip, hoping that she might find some love and then possibly lay off him.
You know going into this movie what’s going to happen: Joyce’s excessive love for her son, coupled with her Jewish mom schtick will drive poor Andy up the wall. This trope is very popular in film – the overbearing Jewish mother who infantilizes and emasculates her son. There’s some of that in The Guilt Trip, where Joyce is continuously checking to see if Andy’s gone to the bathroom, asking if she can buy him some underwear, or henpecking him about his diet. She also has no boundaries, which lead to embarrassing conversations.
Despite all this, The Guilt Trip is still a great film. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman who’s penned such funny hits like Cars, Tangled or Crazy, Stupid, Love, has put together a fine script. The strongest moments are in the car, with some excellent cringe-worthy dialogue. He focuses on Joyce and Andy, at the expense of any other characters in the film. It’s good that he has a fantastic pair with Rogan and Streisand.
This is probably Rogen’s most chivalrous performance, stepping aside, and letting his costar steal the show. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make an impression – far from it. He’s funny and touching, and wisely doesn’t tax his limited acting prowess. But it’s Streisand’s show all the way – she’s hilarious, making Joyce an appealing and warm character. It’s been a while since we’ve seen her really act (her hilarious turn in the Fockers franchise doesn’t really count), and she’s given her character a tender core that informs all of her mothering and nagging. It’s not a vanity-free performance: she looks beautiful throughout the whole move (even when sprawled in bed in crumpled day clothes, she’s still artfully arranged), and plays about 15, 20 years younger than her actual age (it’s implied that she’s menopausal, even though in real life she’s pushing 70), gets hit on by a handsome cowboy in Texas, and when driving in the car, her hoodie is unzipped and shrugged off her shoulders, exposing some bare skin. But that’s to be expected when watching a Streisand performance.
The Guilt Trip isn’t a perfect movie. Wile watching the film, you’ll be able to guess the next plot twist – I was, at least, and was right each time. And even though Streisand is superb, it’s a bit distracting to see her in the movie – at least initially. The weight of her celebrity hangs over her scenes early in the film. Also, it’d be nice if costars Kathy Najimy and Miriam Margolyes had more screen time as Streisand’s gal pals. The scene with the three veteran actresses was fun, loose, with a feeling of improvisation, but it was much too brief. In fact, there are other starry names wasted in smallish roles: Colin Hanks, Adam Scott, and Casey Wilson all just make perfunctory appearances, not deserving of their respective talents.
There are no great lessons to be learned in The Guilt Trip, but Andy and Joyce do learn more about each other – and themselves. Of course, this is the most prevalent cliché in a road comedy, but the characters are so appealing, that the audience will be willing to forgive the script for its predictability. You root for Andy and hope that he’ll make a go of his green window spray, and you hope that one day Joyce will find happiness for herself, and not let her love for Andy consume her life. Also, despite her sometimes-weary attachment to Andy, Joyce is a great mom; and even though Andy can be a brat, he’s ultimately a good son. And the real unexpected pleasure is seeing Rogen and Streisand perform a surprisingly substantial comic duo, even in a lightweight film like this one.