The Guilt Trip really has no right to be as good, as touching, or even as funny as it turns out to be. There is an entire genre for these kinds of brisk, whimsy holiday films that take a subject everyone can relate to and turns them into a by the numbers production that we can all leave happy with. In some ways these comfort food type films are what the movies are all about. They are escapism with a sense of audience and what that audience needs to feel a sense of satisfaction when leaving the theater. There are no surprises, there is no topic to stir conversation, there is simply a story that we all know and when this kind of movie is done right it also has that flair that reassures us we are doing pretty well in leading our day to day lives. This may sound like I might be over thinking a simple road trip comedy that is intended for nothing more than a little extra laughter around the holidays, a film that can be put on at any time of year and everyone approve, but this needs to be said because despite The Guilt Trip falling into all of these categories quite neatly it has that little something extra that pushes it past all the expectations anyone who dismisses the generic poster might have. One may sit down with the perception that this will be an indulgence in mindless entertainment but by the time the credits come around and you are sitting there with the surprised feeling of emotional connection, something a little more than simple contentment you come to appreciate the work put into crafting a film that follows the rules while being able to exceed the average..

Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip.
As far as actual story goes, the first thing I was surprised (and always am in films such as this) are the details with which the characters of our story are given. Sure, Barbra Streisand's Joyce is a typical mother in every sense of the over worried, over protective word but we can see how she could be a fun lady and that she means only the best. She is a single mother and has been since her son was 8 years-old. That son, Andrew (Rogen), is on his way to spend a rare weekend with his mother when the film opens. In preparation for a week-long cross country trip that will have him meeting with several companies to try and convince them they should invest in him and his invention. Andrew is a scientist, which is a nice choice, as most of the "hip" movies we see these days have young 20-somethings working in the entertainment industry or something much flashier or simpler than anyone could really profit from in real life. This is very much set in a suburban, middle class reality though. Joyce's house is neither extravagant or run down. It is satisfactory and just what she needs to accommodate her friends for dinner, her book clubs and other interests that keep her busy. Rogen's character has a fine amount of aspiration and has taken the route that will afford him the chance to see those through. He is a model person but he has his issues as anyone will and as anyone would tends to sweep them under the rug and not confront them. Naturally, the set up is ripe for the wacky/zany adventure film that could be full of oddball slapstick humor that isn't really funny but is broad enough to guarantee a chuckle from one or two people in the audience. While the film certainly follows these guidelines at certain points it also takes the unexpected, but often welcome, exit into something a little more spontaneous making the characters trip and our experience watching them all the more fun and enjoyable.

It is no surprise that director Anne Fletcher has crafted this seemingly harmless film that comes with a strong emotional core that grounds the funny. Fletcher has had great success with these kinds of films and even better success in making her own rise above the overpopulated genre. Step Up, 27 Dresses, and of course The Proposal have each stood as a movie that could have easily been overlooked or dismissed upon first coming out but either defied expectations or continue to live on whether it be on cable or in unrelated sequels that would have never existed without the charm and staying power of that first installment. While this film may not end up having that mass appeal to it that Fletcher's previous directorial efforts have it is clear this is a film that will endure. It is surrounded in its initial release by far too many high profile films but is almost a guarantee for being pulled out around this time each year. Much of this endurance is due to the chemistry between our two leads. It is clear from the beginning that Streisand's mother figure is caring to the point of annoying and in some instances past the point of intrusive but on the other hand Rogen knows how to play the forgiving son without being too submissive or too much of a jerk to his mother. There is a nice balance to Rogen's Andrew and he plays it well throughout the entire film and we see how much he really, truly cares for his mother. There is a lovely backstory to Streisand's character that represents the curveballs life throws at us and sometimes derails us from the life we thought we'd planned out. This is the through line for the entire film and represents some of the more serious themes the film brings to the surface.

Joyce (Barbra Streisand) loves a bargain and food so it is no surprise she takes up such a challenge.
I love to see a film come out of left field and surprise me with how well it was handled and The Guilt Trip provides moment after moment of surprises. It is a well handled film that rides the line between comedy and drama very well. Rogen is known and was made famous for his extremely grotesque comedy and though I have little in terms of personal reference to Babs it is clear she doesn't normally cut loose like she does here. Rogen dials down the language and the vulgarity and doesn't allow this to slip into that over-the-top type of comedy but instead plays it honestly and Streisand does the same with a much more developed character that you would ever have thought her to be going in. It is a sweet film, very charming and features a few fun cameos from the likes of Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, Adam Scott, Kathy Najimy, and Brett Cullen that you might miss if you run to the bathroom but are more than welcome in such a breezy little film. It was even better to have the chance to actually see this with my mother. It would have been impossible not to think of her or our relationship while watching the film, but to have her there reacting to the small bits the movie gets right about the relationship enhanced the experience. I went into this not expecting to like it very much, but at least enjoy it for what Rogen might bring in the way of comedy. Turns out I enjoyed it much, much more than I ever expected to and it would be a shame to skip the film because of what you think it will be so take a chance on this one and see that it will meet your every expectation while exceeding them at the same time.


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