The Guilt Trip is such a horrid experience, which is the complete opposite from what it should and probably was intended to be. Somewhere along the line, the jokes got lost. Perhaps one of the screenwriters — the guy assigned to making the film funny — walked out before even beginning to write, and instead of replacing him, the filmmakers just decided to let the two lead actors make things up and hope that it works. Seth Rogen is one of those actors who often improvises lines, and Barbra Streisand can certainly hold her own.
It’s unfortunate to report that this plan didn’t pay off here. The Guilt Trip is the least enjoyable comedy I saw in 2012. There is one laugh-out-loud scene, and a handful of small chuckles, but this 96 minute film feels like it plays for three hours. And that’s despite the plot moving rather quickly, especially as we near to the end, as characters “develop” without cause or reason, just so that they can complete their arcs. I’m sorry, but one scene where you sit and look ominously into space does not allow you to completely change your character.
The plot: Seth Rogen plays Andy, the inventor of an organic cleaning product, one that vastly outperforms its competitors in both cleaning power and environmental friendliness. He plans on taking a cross-country road trip to pitch the product to potential investors. His overbearing mother, Joyce (Streisand), winds up tagging along, as Andy hopes that, by the end of the journey, he’ll be able to reunite her with her long lost love, who currently resides in San Francisco.
Of course, his mother is the type of person who calls a dozen times every day, reminds him of everything, attempts to structure his life according to her beliefs, and so on. He’s approaching 30, so obviously this isn’t something he greatly appreciates. So, you have two opposing personalities, both of which are locked in a car together for seven days. The funny should just roll off the tongues of these actors, shouldn’t it? That’s the hope of the filmmakers, anyway.
Presumably, character growth also has to happen. This is a road movie, and the development that occurs on the road is one of the reasons to see these things. Watching a character go from, say, an unappreciative son, or a mother who needs to lay off a little, become more or less a perfect human being is supposed to be worth the trip. In The Guilt Trip, all of this happens, but randomly and suddenly, often without reason. There’s no cause and effect here; these characters change just because that’s what’s required of them in order for the film to satisfy its genre’s requirements.
There are only a few actual jokes in the film. Most of the time, we just have Rogen muttering to himself while Streisand plays the overbearing archetype to a tee. She talks over him, he says things that he would normally just think but verbally has to project for the audience in order for any sort of comedy to arise from the situation. Admittedly, this can be funny, but most of it is so easy and low-hanging that you’ll be able to think of it before Rogen can say it.
And that’s only accounting for the points in the film where that’s even attempted. Lots of the time, they don’t even aim for this amount of comedy, and instead basically go straight to drama. The problem is that none of the drama works because the characters are too simple and have no constant motivations. You’re here for a comedy, and although some drama is okay, it has to actually work in order to be a worthwhile endeavor. You can’t understand these characters. They’re too random and underwritten.
The Guilt Trip is not even a feel-good movie. Sure, it wants to be, but all of the drama through the second act is all kind of sad. Rogen’s character is too self-absorbed to be endearing, while Streisand’s is like a bad stereotype. There’s nobody to root for here. At times, it’s like you should be cheering for Andy, but at others, Joyce appears more sympathetic. We keep seeing them in a different light, and it’s not because of their depth — it’s because they’re inconsistently written.
Admittedly, it’s kind of fun to see Streisand and Rogen playing off one another, especially because Streisand is such a joy to watch on-screen. Rogen is even not terrible here. I enjoyed his straight-man routine more than his general slacker persona, and I hope he does this more often. I might start to like him as an actor if that’s the case. There are a few known names in the supporting cast, too, but they each get a single scene and that’s all; the two leads are the stars and that’s all there is to it.
The Guilt Trip is a horrible movie. It’s as simple as that. It’s not funny, the drama feels forced and takes way too much of the film, and the characters are archetypes. It doesn’t even attempt comedy for the majority of its running time, the characters change thought process without reason, and it seemed that the intent was to have Rogen and Streisand — both fine in the film — locked in a car and just have them banter at one another after being given an archetypal character to play. It occasionally works, but the film is a horrid experience, one that isn’t even “nice,” that it’s not even worth considering watching it.