I can’t imagine that there would be much controversy over whether or not the new movie “The Guilt Trip” is a success. Moviegoers may be bored by it, irritated by it, made uneasy by it, or left utterly unmoved by it. But there was no laughing in the theater during the showing I attended.
And if we imagine that this road picture was intended as a sentimental piece, it pretty obviously failed at that, too. One doesn’t come to like or identify with or to feel anything much for the lead characters, an adult son and his mother. Andrew and Joyce are the names Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand answer to here. They don’t act. The characters are simply versions of the performers’ well-established screen personalities.
Andrew is a chemist who has invented “organic” detergents which work as cleaners and which are also safe for human consumption. He then invested all of his money in packaging the product in spray bottles bearing the trade name “Scioclean,” to be pronounced “sy-o-clean,” “sy” for “science.”
Now he is going on a cross country road trip to meet buyers he hopes to convince to well the product retail. Before he leaves, he visits his mother, Joyce, who has irritated him for years in the way parents often irritate their children.
But on this occasion he hears her story about an early romance that ended when her beau, Andy, failed to rise to a challenge from the man who was to be Andrew’s father. Daddy’s dead now, and Andrew (named after the old flame) does a web search that tells him Ma’s old boyfriend is still alive but is working across the country in San Francisco.
So Andrew decides to offer to take his mother on the sales trip. When it is over they can go to the city on the bay and meet up with her once and perhaps future romantic object.
But the viewer may not be paying attention by the time the two drive their economy rental up Telegraph Hill. This is because the stops on the road and the patter while driving are just pedestrian. Here’s an example:
In Texas, Ma orders the fifty ounce steak dinner, figuring to finish it all and claim the free meal. The other diners cheer her on. One of them, a traveling salesman apparently twenty years younger than she is, suggests she take smaller bites but more of them. This helps her to finish eating the whole steak. Then he asks to take her out the next time he’s in New York.
This sequence is not funny. At all. Nothing about it is funny. And we don’t come to like the characters or care about the characters because of the events. So why is it in the movie?
Well, if the makers had taken out every scene that doesn’t entertain, there might not be fifteen minutes of footage left. Why is it important that Andrew tell his mother that the term “oriental” is currently held to be offensive? Is it funny that a stripper can tell Andrew that packed snow is rubbing on his rental’s tires? And why do we have to have all those references to frogs if the frog slot machine Ma plays during their Vegas stop isn’t going to pay out?
There are some comic opportunities here. The pair stop at the Grand Canyon, glance at it, and wonder how long they are supposed to examine its beauty. A decent writer could have (and I think has) come up with a few sharply worded lines to get jokes out of this situation. Here Streisand and Rogen just flub their way through the scene, essentially muttering.
Almost any movie in the twelve-plex has to be better made than was “The Guilt Trip.” Too bad. It is keeping movies like “Anna Karenina” and “Hitchcock” out of the theater right when people might want to watch them.