Like a 2010s version of a John Hughes movie, The Guilt Trip explores confining family bonds with knowing humor. Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) is an organic chemistry nerd who spent his own cash to manufacture cartons of his FDA-approved green cleaning solution. Embarking across the country to pitch his product to big box stores, he brings his mother, Joyce (Barbra Streisand), along for the ride, to urge her toward closure on a long-ago romantic episode.
Rogen and Streisand (also the film's executive producers) have great comic chemistry together; her motormouth nattering is a tonic to his understated exasperation. Andy doesn't want to be treated like a kid (even if being with his mother makes him act like one), and Joyce wants to be recognized as a person, not just a mother. Their long drive's comic vignettes emphasize Andy's reluctance to acknowledge that Mother Knows Best.
Dan Fogelman, who wrote last year's smartest comedy, Crazy, Stupid Love, and Anne Fletcher, director of two of the grossest recent rom coms, The Proposal and 27 Dresses, hit the mark on this one. The dialogue is funny, the slapsticky parts are not too ridiculous, and the loving/ annoying relationship rings true. I'm not sure why, when this is obviously about a Jewish mother and her son, it has been wiped clear of most overtly Jewish context and language. Brewster? Daddy must have changed it to evade some university's Jewish admissions quota.
Part of my amusement at the film was how much Joyce reminded me of my own mother, even down to the purse hook, hung on a table's edge to keep a pocketbook off the dirty floor. I shortchanged my 85-year-old mom on our daily phone call because I had to rush off to this screening. I'll make it up to her.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Aging grossly, and gracefully."