The Guilt Trip is a perfect movie for mothers and their sons to finally go out together on that movie night. It's very simple and unassuming, and that's where its charm comes from. The fact that it's the first mother-son film in decades that doesn't involve incest like Loverboy, Savage Grace and even some episodes of Boardwalk Empire is a huge plus.
I know how attractive it might be for filmmakers to explore the taboo subject of incest between mother and son, but sometimes it's nice for sons to take their mothers to see a movie that mirrors their own dynamic that will not require years of therapy for both parties afterwards.
This is a concept that could have been concocted within a ten second brainstorming session: Barbra Steisand and Seth Rogen are mother-and-son on a road trip. As simple as this pitch can be and fraught with possible cliché storytelling landmines, it's elevated by Dan Fogelman's condescension-free screenplay and the genuine performances of the two leads.
Andrew Brewster (Rogen) is an ecologically conscious inventor who is about to embark on a countrywide trip pitching his organic cleaning spray. He finds out that his smothering mother Joyce's (Streisand) old sweetheart is living in San Francisco and brings her along for the trip with hopes that his mother will come out of her shell and start dating again.
Of course there are many obvious opportunities for various comedy sketches along the way but I have to give director Anne Flethcer (The Proposal) credit for not milking them to the point of aimless crass exaggeration.
A scene where Andrew and Joyce's car get a flat tire and they have to seek help from a strip bar could have been stacked full of obvious jokes involving Andrew getting hit in the face with bare fake breasts in front of his mother, but it actually concludes in a pretty sweet fashion. Another scene involving Joyce getting herself into an eating contest could have also been artificially boosted by gross-out gags but also abstains from such easy choices.
The relationship between Andrew and Joyce is the key to the success of The Guilt Trip, and both actors from very different backgrounds deliver with utmost chemistry between them. Sure, we get a lot of scenes involving the cliché of the worried and controlling Jewish mother, but soon their relationship takes an unexpected and heartfelt turn.
Usually road trip movies like this start with two people who cannot stand each other and learn to like one another during the journey. The Guilt Trip is not as cynical in its approach. We know from the start that as much of a generation gap the mother and son might have between each other, they love each other very much. This might take out some conflict from the story, but it also makes it endearing.