This film review of “The Guilt Trip” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 31 January 2013
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Written by Dan Fogelman
Starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen
The film’s producers have hidden it well. There is not one Yiddish phrase, not one mention of the word “Jew”, no characters wearing Stars of David on gold or silver chains around their necks and no mentions of Chanukah, Passover or Yom Kippur. Their last name is “Brewster”, a good Anglo-American name if there ever was one. But at its heart, the new film “The Guilt Trip” knows what it really is: a story about an over-bearing, over-concerned and over-communicative Jewish mother (Barbra Streisand as “Joyce Brewster”) and her struggling-to-find-himself adult son (Seth Rogen as “Andy Brewster”). These two Jewish acting stars – Streisand still going strong at age 70 and Rogen one of the new “Jewish brat pack” – anchor this film, together in almost every scene.
Joyce Brewster still lives in New Jersey when son Andy flies in from Los Angeles to visit her as part of a quest to market his special biologically sustainable (and even drinkable with “FDA approval!”) cleaning fluid that he has invented but is unable to sell. In a moment of concern, Andy invites his widowed mother to join him on a cross-country trip to visit distributors and outlets – thus the film’s tag-line: “3000 miles, 8 days, 1 mother of a road trip”. But Andy’s real goal is to bring his mother back in contact with her first love, a man now living in San Francisco, and thus re-spark her interest in romance.
After years of frequently playing the romantic Jewish female lead with goyish guys (think of Robert Redford, Kris Kristofferson, Ryan O’Neal, Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte) – her last starring role was in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” in 1996 – she moved to a supporting role as Ben Stiller’s mother (and Dustin Hoffman’s wife) in “Meet the Fockers”. And now “The Guilt Trip” brings her back centre stage; it’s her movie, and she milks it for all she can, complete with her New York-inflected Jewish accent, Jewish maternal emotionality and love of eating. (In fact, the funniest scene in the film has Streisand’s character eating more than two kilos of steak at a Texas restaurant.)
With such star power, it’s a shame “The Guilt Trip” does not deliver more humour and entertainment. Director Anne Fletcher specialises in middle-brow romantic comedies (“27 Dresses”, “The Proposal”), but is working with an under-developed script by Jewish writer Dan Fogelman. New Jersey-born Fogelman reportedly based the story (originally entitled “My Mother’s Curse”) on a real-life road trip that he took with his mother Joyce (to whom the film is dedicated). But real life does not always translate well to the screen, and Rogen – who is truly one of America’s hottest new comic actors – seems strangely subdued on screen, frequently angry with his over-expressive mother but lacking some of his patented hilariously comic riffs.
“The Guilt Trip” arrives with a number of other Jewish pedigrees: British-Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes appears in an early scene playing one of Joyce Brewster’s friends. And all three producers are Jewish: John Goldwyn is a son of the famed Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn; Lorne Michaels is the Israeli-born creator of “Saturday Night Live”; and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”) is a frequent comedy partner of Seth Rogen.