Review: ‘The Guilt Trip’

‘The Guilt Trip’ is a bit like a mayonnaise sandwich: it doesn’t take a lot of thought or creativity to put it together, but the result is pretty bland. The problem with this formulaic comedy it that it is neither good nor bad; it’s uninspiring. The characters feel half-drawn and the emotional and narrative points are generic. It’s a paint-by-numbers offering, only there are only two numbers and they each represent a different shade of beige.

Chemist-cum-inventor Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) is about to embark on a cross-country drive to pitch his new product to potential vendors, and takes his overbearing mother Joyce (Barbra Streisand) along for the ride with an eye to reuniting her with a long-lost love.

There’s so little sincerity in this film. Even the music feels like a series of cues to let you know which emotion to feel: tinkly piano for sadness, soaring strings when you’re supposed to feel uplifted, quirky acoustic guitar for the road trip scenes. That’s probably the biggest problem: we’re told how to feel rather reacting to the characters’ actions or behaviour, and that’s probably because neither character sells it enough.

Joyce is not the oppressive caricature that she should be; writer Dan Fogelman’s idea of “overbearing” seems to be a woman who simply wants to be involved in her son’s life and maybe tries a little too hard. She calls him a lot, wanting to buy him pants and to talk to him about and help him with his life, and that’s about it. Babs is great in the role, but there isn’t a lot for her to do.

Being trapped in a room with Barbara Streisand is considered punishment in some cultures.
Being trapped in a room with Barbra Streisand is considered punishment in some cultures.

Rogen’s Andy vacillates between exasperation and disdain, and that’s about as emotionally developed as his character gets; that is, until about two thirds of the way through the movie when we’re treated to the obligatory and fairly contrived moment of self-reflection. In addition, Andy’s dialogue is almost entirely comprised of petulantly delivered snarky comments, which become tiring very quickly.

‘The Guilt Trip’ is a series of set-ups with no punch-lines; a sequence of events with no consequence. Andy and Joyce meander across America, finding themselves in precarious situations that are resolved quickly and effortlessly with little to no repercussion or significance. This in itself is a shame as some of the circumstances the duo becomes entangled in have the potential for some great comedic beats.

There are a couple of genuinely fun and funny moments particularly in the final act, though not enough to keep you guffawing. Most of the plot points are predictable and the inevitable moment of triumph in the third act is broadcast about an hour before it happens, leaving the audience to trudge slowly and inexorably towards the film’s hackneyed finale.

‘The Guilt Trip’ doesn’t stray outside the reliable boundaries of innocuous, inoffensive storytelling or comedy. More’s the pity; with great comedic talents like Streisand and Rogen and a script that was willing to push some of the narrative points and comedic possibilities a little further, this could have been a very entertaining film. As it stands, it’s just nice, safe and dull.

Take your Nan; I’m sure she’ll love it.

1.5 stars

Andrew Langcake

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