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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 51
A non-guilty pleasure - Barbra Streisand returns to the big screen in The Guilt Trip
Arts & Entertainment
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A non-guilty pleasure - Barbra Streisand returns to the big screen in The Guilt Trip

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GUILT TRIP Opens December 21 Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) is a brilliant young chemist living in California who has gone into business for himself inventing a new environmentally safe cleaning product he is sure will revolutionize the industry. Problem is, he can't sell it. At all. To anyone. He's a terrible salesman.

Joyce (Barbara Streisand) is Andy's loving, if overly suffocating, mother. She lives in New York and is convinced that her son chose to move all the way across the country just to get away from her. Still, that doesn't keep this caring mom from calling him daily, asking questions about his life, and giving positive assurances that he will be an undeniable success. Joyce cares for her son deeply, and whether he likes it or not Andy is the focal point of her life.

That's the basic setup for The Guilt Trip, a comedic mother-son road movie written by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Tangled) and directed by Anne Fletcher (Step Up; The Proposal), in which this pair ends up driving across the country for reasons better left unsaid. Not a lot happens, there are few surprises, and most of the dramatics are fairly evident right from the start of the film. It travels in directions that are readily anticipated, and those expecting more than the obvious are going to be in for something of a letdown.

GREAT CHEMISTRY, TIMING
Even so, I liked this movie. It has charm. It has style. It has pizzazz. Most of all, it showcases the sensational chemistry and comedic timing of its two stars, the movie really nothing more than a series of conversations (in dining rooms, hotel rooms, restaurants and, of course, the front seat of a car) between the two, talking about their lives, the secrets they've held dear, the dreams they still hunger to fulfill, and their aspirations for the person sitting next to them on this journey. It's smarter than you think it is going to be and far more honest than I'd remotely anticipated before the screening began.

OK, it can also be a little silly and strained - that goes without saying. Also, the episodic nature of the narrative makes the movie feel at times a bit like a weird hybrid of My Dinner With Andre and Planes, Trains & Automobiles with a familial twist, some scenes not playing nearly as well as others do. Fletcher's direction is so easygoing and nondescript it's almost flaccid, and for a movie that barely runs 90 minutes the pacing still manages to be a bit too herky-jerky.

But Rogen and Streisand, somewhat shockingly, have remarkable chemistry, their back-and-forth and give-and-take verbal gymnastics crackling with infectious electricity. I truly believed this pair was mother and son, and in the end I absolutely adored that the facts behind this road trip were as honest and as pure as they ultimately proved to be. More than that, while Fogelman once again comes up with a contrived and overly melodramatic finale, unlike in Crazy, Stupid, Love there is a beauteous simplicity to the emotional revelations I couldn't help but respond to. Everything comes together remarkably well, and the smile I exited the theater with felt more than justified.

Will The Guilt Trip change lives or ever be thought of as a road-trip comedy classic? No, it's far too obviously plotted and emotionally familiar for that to be the case. But it is enjoyable, pretty much start to finish. Rogen and Streisand give far more of themselves to the production than I ever would have expected based on the anemic trailer. I liked this movie - it made me smile, got me to laugh, and even elicited a gentle tear or two. The bottom line? The darn thing works, and I don't have a lot more to add other than that.

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