Far and away the mildest film in theatres right now, Anne Fletcher’s a love letter to nagging Jewish mothers boasts a surprisingly layered performance from Barbra Streisand and precious little else. It’s a 90-minute wisp of a road trip starring Seth Rogen as a bumbling chemist who invented an environmentally sustainable cleaning solution with a name so unpronounceable, it becomes a running gag. Since the movie takes place in an alternate universe where nobody uses the Internet, he has to drive cross country pitching his product to skeptical distributors. For reasons that really don’t make all that much sense, he brings along his doting mother (Streisand), who embarrasses him at every turn.
Toned way down from Fockers territory, Streisand plays a lonely widow who lives through her son, beaming with pride at his least remarkable underachievements. She’s annoying, but also awfully endearing. In fact, this kid’s kind of a shit. It’s the first real charmless performance by Rogen, sanding down his abrasive edges and pouting most of the time.
Borderline entertaining hijinks ensue, like when their car breaks down in front of a strip club, and the gregarious Streisand makes friends with all the working girls as her son wilts in mortification. The movie isn’t trying for belly laughs or even any comic set-pieces; it just cruises along in second gear being genial. Naturally, mother and son learn some long-kept secrets about one another, none of which exactly qualify as shocking revelations. You can see where it’s all going from the opening moments, and The Guilt Trip seems designed to embrace the predictability as comfort food.
Fletcher, who previously helmed The Proposal and 27 Dresses, keeps the filmmaking unremarkable. She knows everybody bought a ticket to see Barbra, and the closest the movie comes to suspense is whether or not Streisand will be able to devour a 50-ounce steak in a Texas eating contest without messing up her famous fingernails. The Guilt Trip is all so very pleasant, which will probably be enough for its target audience.