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Thoughtful Road Trip Movies: The Guilt Trip Review

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Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand make an unlikely pairing in this half-hearted comedy. Photo: Paramount Pictures

We’ll be honest. We had every intent of categorizing this road trip family comedy as one of the worst based solely on its lukewarm reviews. Director Anne Fletcher is never one to produce anything formulaic–unless you count her previous three films: Step Up, 27 Dresses, and The Proposal. Now, she’s taking on the nagging Jewish mother cliche? Sounds like the least original joke this decade.

But, then we actually watched it– and it wasn’t that bad. It’s not a great movie, certainly, but it has its merits, as you’ll see in our The Guilt Trip review.

The biggest flaw of The Guilt Trip isn’t necessarily within the film itself, though it’s far from perfect: it was marketing the film as a comedy. The Guilt Trip wouldn’t have received the scathing reviews it did had it been marketed to the Barbra Streisand crowd as a light middle-aged drama rather than the Seth Rogen crowd anticipating a rollicking good time.

Unfortunately, despite some thoughtful aspects, it can’t decide between light PG drama and uncomfortable adult humor, and settles tepidly as a PG-13 family comedy.

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Tension between Joyce and Andy rises as they struggle to understand their relationship as adult son and lonely mother. Photo: Paramount Pictures

The Plot

Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) has two missions: to introduce his organic product ScioClean to major retailers and to find a new husband for his mother, Joyce Brewster (Barbra Streisand). It just so happens that both undertakings could be accomplished with a cross-country road trip from New Jersey to San Francisco. After Joyce confesses to having loved another man before Andy was born, the over-eager son intends to reconnect his mother with someone who can get her off his back. Under the claim he wants to spend time with her, he invites her on his product-campaigning trek across America.

Along the way, Joyce constantly interferes with Andy’s life, putting him in demeaning and uncomfortable situations while disregarding his input. For instance, she calls his ex-girlfriend in Tennessee for help with their car, she criticizes Andy’s pitch in front of potential buyers, and she has local strippers fix the car’s tires, which Andy doesn’t know how to do. After a steak-eating competition in Texas that Joyce insists on entering and winning to save them money, Andy begins to see the genuine care she has for him, and they eventually come to enjoy each other’s company. Andy even goes out of his way to swing by the Grand Canyon (which, while meaningful, they admit is underwhelming).

They eventually reach San Francisco to meet Joyce’s missed chance at love. However, (without spoiling anything), the interaction does not go as planned. Yet, it still yields one the most meaningful scene of the film, as Joyce admits that life happened the way it did for a reason and if it hadn’t, she wouldn’t have Andy in her life.

The Vehicle

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The rented sport red 2011 Chevrolet Aveo the main characters drive on their trip. Photo: Paramount Pictures

After their first bit of squabbling at the rental car office, Joyce insists they save money by renting a sport red 2011 Chevrolet Aveo, which Rogen refers to as a “clown car.” While Andy wanted a larger, more substantial SUV, he had to submit to the insistence of his mother, who also takes control of the wheel and does the majority of the driving. She also chooses what they listen to on the radio (an awkward book-on-tape) and where they pull over. Clearly, the car reflects Joyce’s obsessive intervening in Andy’s life. It does the job, but it’s a weak car on snowy roads and repeatedly breaks down. At least it has a GPS, which Andy insisted on.

As with any road trip resembling this formula, the car brings the pair not only to their destination, but allows time for them to bond and face their repressed grievances toward each other.

According to an interview with USA Today, director Anne Fletcher confesses she wanted an American car right from the start (as typical for road trip movies). However, the brands vying for the position didn’t want degrading jokes to be made concerning the car, so a deal was never struck. Eventually, Chevy lent Fletcher the Aveo, which was being retired in preparation for the Sonic, and that allowed the filmmakers to joke about the car as much as they wanted.

Our The Guilt Trip Review

Writer Fogelman based the script on a real car trip with his mom, which may be why The Guilt Trip feels so familiar to real life. While some movies have taken the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles formula (the annoying character getting on the nerves of the impatient jerk) to extremes, like Due Date, this one puts that dynamic in a different light: the infantilized son who is forced to endure the annoyances of his overbearing mother.

There’s a deeper relationship between the two characters than most road trip movies, and it shows. That’s what makes their journey meaningful. Instead of thinking about “What if?” be thankful for what you have.

Unfortunately, we have to endure a painful first-third of screen time when the film still thinks it’s funny.  It improves once it concedes to being a light drama, but most viewers will already have jumped ship by that time.

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Joyce and Andy reach their destination: the end credits. Photo: Paramount Pictures

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  • Aaron WidmarSenior Editor

    Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.