‘The Guilt Trip’: The curse of the overprotective mother

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By Fred Allen

Is it possible to have a movie in which there is no one to cheer for? That is the quandary in “The Guilt Trip.” Joyce Brewster is the worst kind of mother, the one who smothered her son from birth to adulthood. Now when he needs independence to get on with his life, she won’t turn him loose.

“The Guilt Trip” is hard to watch because Barbra Streisand plays Joyce as a harridan, so shrill and bossy that she cannot let Andy (Seth Rogen) speak or think for himself. She has believed in her mind that he went to college in California to get the whole continent between him and his mother.

At times, it is uncomfortable to witness the way she treats him. What is worse, she doesn’t recognize she is emasculating her “perfect” child. He is so distant from her that he won’t tell her he is totally unsuccessful, totally lost, in the business world. He, in turn, cannot recognize the help she could be, because she has alienated herself from his affection. To quote a line from Paul Newman’s film, “What we have here is a total lack of communication.”

Knowing what he is doing will lead to hell-on-earth, Andy invites Joyce to accompany him on a sales trip cross-country, keeping a secret why he has invited her. This becomes the buddy trip from Hades. And we are the willing witnesses. Willing why? Because we paid money to see the movie. This is a long first hour. Streisand plays the stereotypical Jewish-type mother until we want to pinch her head off. If this is acting, she’s perfect at it, but unlikable. Rogen plays off her nagging beautifully, but at a pace that would make a tortoise a winner. We get the idea he’s afraid of her. This film is mostly nonstop unlikable Streisand and  wimpy Rogen.

Luckily, the plot thickens and we can almost forgive the wretchedness of their alienation. But not quite, because we know the plot calls for a reconciliation, leading to a complete “happily ever after.”

The funniest line is, “It’s like eating a poodle.”

Family Rating: Some teens remembering a funnier Seth Rogen will be disappointed. PG-13 for language and some slightly off-color happenings. Also featuring Kathy Najimy, Colin Hanks, Jeff Kober, Brett Cullen, and Adam Scott. Directed by Anne Fletcher from a script by Dan Fogelman who gave us the memorable “Fred Claus.” Original music by Christophe Beck. (1 hr. 35 min.).