Gotta be substantial opportunities for middle-brow, family-friendly comedy there, right?
Nope. Zero, zilch, nothin’. The puzzle is why?
The set-up has Streisand and Rogen playing, yes, mother and son, cooped up together in a sub-subcompact on a cross-country road trip.
Then why does “Guilt Trip” get absolutely no laughs out of any of this?
Take this sequence, for instance: Andy (Rogen) is driving the tiny car through a heavy snow storm and an army of big rigs when he senses a flat tire. He pulls off the highway into the parking lot of a topless joint.
No tire looks damaged so he and mom, Joyce (Streisand), take shelter in the topless bar. (Joyce initially mistakes the establishment for a tapas bar, which gives you a fair idea of the comic aspirations in Dan Fogelman’s screenplay.)
Okay, you think, Streisand and Rogen in a topless bar — there’s gotta be a bunch of comic possibilities there. You’d be wrong.
They go in, have a drink and the bartender overhears the car trouble discussion. She tells them one of the dancers knows cars. The dancer goes outside, fixes the problem, offers Andy a lap dance, he turns this down and mom and son set off to find a motel.
Now I ask you: What’s funny about any of that? Where are the gags?
Why go to all the trouble to contrive an emergency stop at a topless bar — one where no one goes topless, by the way — if you’ve got no gags for that situation? Might as well have stopped at a Seven-11.
Another stop at a Texas steak joint sees Joyce attempt to eat a six-pound steak plus salad, roll and a shrimp cocktail in an hour to win a free $100 meal. If this were a Seth Rogen movie without Streisand, no doubt body fluids would have come into play. But it’s not, so another extended sequence rolls out without any laughs.
Production notes state that Fogelman got this steak-eating idea — and no doubt many more you-had-to-be-there situations — from a cross-country trip he took with his mom. So let this be a lesson to all young screenwriters: Don’t involve your mom in your writing.
The film, directed by Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “The Proposal”), wants to say something about the relationships between mothers and sons and how they may drive each other crazy but, rock bottom, love is the basis for all their emotional interaction.
Fogelman and Fletcher do get some of this on film but in wordy dialogue between the two instead of demonstrating this through dramatic or comic scenes. Even these tend toward the banal though rather than insightful, however, like notations on Hallmark cards.
Andy is a biological chemist who has invented a fabulous new cleaning product. Instead of marketing it through normal channels he feels he must travel across the U.S. to attend pitch meetings with chain stores. Naturally, he’s the world’s worst salesman.
The movie has him fly from L.A. to his widowed mother’s New Jersey home where he’ll hit the road in a rental car. Then his mother confesses, out of the blue, about a long-ago romance before she met his father.
This causes Andy to look the guy up on the Internet and find him in San Francisco. So he gets mom to come with him to get her to San Fran.
Okay, a contrived stretch — like the strip and steak joint stops — but all would be worth it for a few laughs. None materializes.
Well, Streisand and Rogen are both uncharacteristically low key. So you wonder: Was Rogen deferring to the great entertainer and was she in turn taking a backseat to her very popular co-star? Neither one is playing to his or her demographics in this outing, that’s for sure.
Supporting roles, which pop up then vanish, lack the vivacity needed to sharpen individual sequences. Perhaps these are modeled after characters encountered when the writer traveled with his mother. They would have been better as exaggerated caricatures for this frustrated odd couple to play against.
Tech credits are routine. With a whole country to chose from, even the locations are dull.
Opens: December 21, 2012 (Paramount Pictures)
Production companies: Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions present a Michaels/Goldwyn production
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Colin Hanks, Adam Scott, Yvonne Strahovski, Brett Cullen, Ari Graynor
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman
Producers: Lorne Michaels, John Goldwyn, Evan Goldberg
Executive producers: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand, Mary McLaglen, Dan Fogelman, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Paul Schwake
Director of photography: Oliver Stapleton
Production designer: Nelson Coates
Music: Christophe Beck
Costume designer: Danny Glicker
Editors: Dana E. Glauberman, Priscilla Nedd-Friednly
PG-13 rating, 96 minutes