The most remarkable thing about The Guilt Trip is how it’s surprisingly funny despite being undoubtedly safe. Anne Fletcher‘s comedy has a straightforward premise and never does anything to make the audience exceedingly uncomfortable. Humor usually rests on the unexpected—if we know the punchline, the joke tends to flop, but The Guilt Trip finds its strength in execution. Thanks to the great chemistry between stars Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand, you may know where The Guilt Trip is headed, but it’s still a charming and enjoyable ride.
Andy Brewster (Rogen) is a scientist who has created a safe and organic cleaning product called “Scieoclean” (a name that comes from the horrible amalgamation of the words “science” and “clean”). Unfortunately, Andy is a terrible salesman, and his pitches keep falling flat when he tries to sell his product to major retailers. When visiting with his mother, Joyce (Streisand), he learns his namesake is his mother’s former love and while the other Andy isn’t his father, young Andy still wants to see if he can provide a reunion for his lonely mother. Andy ambivalently brings his mother along for the rest of his sales trip, which leads to all the awkward moments a Jewish mother can bring to her son.
It’s a fakakta scheme, but it works well enough to get the plot moving. Fletcher showed her skill in translating these silly premises into delightful comedy with her previous feature, The Proposal, and she repeats that success here. Once again, we see a mismatched duo put through the paces of episodic comedy. The key difference is that every episode drives Andy further to regret his decision, but just when the movie is about to get angry, it hits a strong emotional beat, and returns to a level of positivity while still maintaining a reasonable obstacle. It’s formulaic, but the formula works thanks to Fletcher’s sensible direction, and the terrific pairing of Rogen and Streisand.
We know the interactions between the two characters tend rest on Streisand providing a set-up and Rogen’s reaction providing the pay-off, but the two actors play the game effortlessly. No one should go so far to say that they feel like a real mother and son, but their relationship feels relatable. Streisand never lets Joyce come off as anything more than misguided, and Andy takes his share of the blame by being too stubborn. They’re mismatched, but they’re not at odds, and this camaraderie leads to good-hearted laughs throughout. Streisand remains a pro at comedy, and Rogen’s reactions are priceless.
The Guilt Trip is as comforting as the bags of peanut M&Ms Joyce enjoys. You shouldn’t eat them every meal, and they’re not haute cuisine, but they’re a nice treat. Fletcher, Rogen, and Streisand have delivered a sweet movie that not only gets laughs from a familiar conflict, but makes you want to spend time with your mother even though you know she’ll probably embarrass you.