The last time Barbra Streisand starred in a movie people were still unironically doing “The Macarena.” In 1996 she headlined “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” a romantic dramedy opposite Jeff Bridges. She may not be the romantic lead anymore—and I’d bet my copy of “Funny Girl” she’s never danced “The Macarena”—but “The Guilt Trip” proves she can still carry a movie.
Striesand plays Joyce, the widowed mother of Andrew (Seth Rogen), an uptight organic chemist based in California. He’s on the road flogging his new coconut and soy cleaning product—so safe you can drink it! –to distributors. On a stopover at his mom’s house in New Jersey the pair have a heart-to-heart that prompts Andrew to invite her along as he drives to San Francisco.
The name Seth Rogen brings along with it certain expectations. But the trademarked blend of heartfelt vulgarity that has served him so well in movies like “Knocked Up” and “Zach and Miri Make a Porno” is absent here. “That’s enough with the street talk,” says Joyce when Andrew curses at the dinner table, and for the most part he obeys.
So minus the vulgarity “The Guilt Trip” is left with heartfelt, but rather than a big mushy pile of sentiment, the movie expertly presents a generational odd couple comedy ripe with chemistry.
Streisand’s version of Joyce isn’t a radical departure from mother characters we’ve seen before; she has trouble using her cellphone, asks too many questions about ex-girlfriends and insists on using coupons. What sets her apart from the normal comedic mom is the sense of longing and loss she brings to certain scenes. She can deliver a funny line but also bring the emotional heft necessary to separate this from the run-of-the-mill parent comedy (i.e. her less nuanced work in the “Fokker” films.)
Rogen cedes center stage to her, handing in a restrained performance that serves as a solid surface for Streisand to bounce off. They have natural chemistry and their relationship is a nice change from the usual father-and-son set-up so often milked for comedic purposes.
Based on a semi-autobiographical screenplay from Dan Fogelman, who went on a road trip with his mom, “The Guilt Trip” has many familiar elements—and more than a few predictable story turns—but Streisand’s skill and chemistry with Rogen make it a trip worth taking.