Let's make this clear right from the jump: The Guilt Trip is not a good movie, at least not in the "Oh my god, what did I just see -- I want to see it again right now" sense of the term. But it's perfectly passable in the "Hey, it's better than surgery!" spirit of holiday filmgoing. (For an example of a movie where surgery would be the preferable option, see -- or better yet, don't -- Billy Crystal in Parental Guidance.) Directed by Anne Fletcher, who specializes in entirely disposable, but not completely unenjoyable schlock like 27 Dresses and The Proposal, The Guilt Trip is a mother/son road comedy starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a matriarch and child, respectively, that meanders merrily along for 95 pain-free (and, honestly, mostly laugh-free) minutes before arriving at its entirely predictable destination. En route, however, the film makes a few detours and pit stops that actually qualify as entertainment. Here are the guiltiest pleasures of The Guilt Trip:
1. It's Got that Hanukkah Spirit
Every December, Jews across America observe Christmas Day by watching a big holiday movie (typically of the action variety) and then wolfing down dinner at a local Chinese joint. The Guilt Trip has clearly been made with that audience in mind and tries to position itself as the alternative to seeing Skyfall and/or The Hobbit a second time. Even though Joyce and Andy Brewster (Streisand and Rogen, who work quite nicely together, with Streisand more than keeping up with Rogen's flair for improvisation) don't specifically identify themselves as Jewish, their heritage is obvious from the endless kvetching that fuels their cross-country drive from New Jersey to California. In fact, 2 Jews in a Car Bitching (hat tip to Lapine and Finn) would probably be a better title than The Guilt Trip, although there's certainly more than enough guilt passed back and forth between these two as they attempt to reconcile their differences. Granted, the last thing Jewish families might want to see are their own familiar arguments acted out by movie stars, but it's also strangely comforting to hear such authentically Jewish voices emanating from the screen at the height of the Christmas season. If you're already missing your tsuris-inducing parents and/or children -- or just want to remind yourself why you didn't visit them for Hanukkah in the first place -- this movie is an effective substitute for family face time.
2. Streisand's So Hungry, She Could Eat a Cow... Literally
Apparently taking a page from Brad Pitt -- who ate his way through Ocean's Eleven and Moneyball -- Streisand displays a prodigious appetite throughout The Guilt Trip. Not only does Joyce's bedtime routine involve falling asleep by eating peanut M&M's, but one of the movie's big comic set-pieces involves her attempting to consume one of those enormous, full-course Texas steak dinners in an hour so that it'll be free. The sight of Yentl pounding down a medium-rare T-bone as big as her head is almost worth the price of admission.
3. The Supporting Cast Deserve Their Own Movie
The nice thing about being Seth Rogen is that you can call up your friends and invite them to spend a day or two shooting your new movie. It's especially nice when your friends include Ari Graynor, Adam Scott, Colin Hanks and Casey Wilson. Strangely, though, none of these scene-stealers actually get to be funny in the movie. Wilson, for example, appears briefly as a secretary at the office where Andy -- an inventor who is peddling his organic cleaning solution -- is about to deliver a pitch. You keep expecting her to do something quirky and hilarious, but no... she's just an ordinary secretary. Same with Hanks, who briefly turns up as the husband of Adam's high-school sweetheart (Yvonne Strahovski) and plays the role completely straight. I spent much of the movie imagining an alternate cut where each of these characters was the comic lead and Rogen was just some loser they made fun of.
4. Middlesex Madness
At one point during our formative years, we all probably experienced an uncomfortable car ride where our parents listened to a book on tape that was not exactly meant for our ears. (For me, it was Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater and its copious amounts of copulation and public urination.) In The Guilt Trip, Joyce subjects Andy to Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, the Oprah-recommended, Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicle of hermaphrodite Callie/Cal Stephanides that she's been dying to hear read aloud. Andy's revulsion at listening to this sexually charged book with his mother is an easy laugh sure, but Rogen sells it. Mainly I was just happy that Fletcher avoided the expected (and lazy) 50 Shades of Grey reference.
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