Of all the movies with a Christmastime release, the one I least expected to see in the theater was The Guilt Trip. And yet, I did. I saw it. In the theater. With my mother. On Christmas Day.
Even more surprising than all of those (adorable, I know) things is the fact that I liked the movie. Really! I’m not the hugest Seth Rogen fan, as I generally find his man-child characters wholly unappealing, and his laugh completely intolerable, but fortunately for me, he wasn’t as man-childish in this flick. Nor did he have the chance to laugh–for the most part, he was the one cracking the jokes.
He and Barbra Streisand had a very real, believable chemistry together as mother and son, he of a still immature ilk and she of a naggy, hanger-on sort. And yet, despite the fact that these two characters were designed to annoy the crap out of each other as they took a road trip across the country, they managed not to annoy me (or my mother, I think) as I was watching them. Rogen’s character, Andy, starts off immature (though, like I said, not man-childish anymore), gradually learning to appreciate his mother as the film progresses. Streisand’s character, Joyce, starts off clingy and winds up more independent. Maybe that’s cliche or predictable, but the fun of this movie is the way they interact.
Buried beneath all the lazy-bro dialogue that all of Rogen’s other characters have spouted has been a layer of incredibly quick wit, and it’s on display in this movie. He’s constantly mumbling non sequiturs and opinions under his breath. Most of the time, Joyce can’t hear her son’s musings, which is funny, but when she does hear them, she laughs. And that’s even better. I’m seeing more and more instances of movie and TV characters actually enjoying each other’s humor–i.e., laughing with the audience at the antics on the screen rather than pretending they were normal and unfunny–and I’m loving it. Real people laugh at each other. Real people cannot keep a straight face. Let’s see more smiles, Hollywood. Real people are hilarious.
Streisand plays the mother role really well–so well, in fact, that I think she may have revitalized her acting career with this movie. It’s a sort of predictable spot to fill, the Jewy East Coast mother, but few actresses have such a recognizable, trustworthy monopoly on it as she does now. It was genuinely fun to see her unglamourized, wearing matching sweatsuits and consuming an entire steak and messing with Andy’s hair, instead of constantly behind that soft-filtered and completely flattering light screen that she always seems to be behind whenever she’s being interviewed (my mother’s theory, not mine). (I mean, it works, though, because she’s got the most youthful 70-something face I’ve ever seen.) She let herself go, and as a result, she looked like she had the time of her life making this movie.
The Guilt Trip will probably actually make you think about the way you treat your parents. (Spoiler alert.) That’s a good thing, though. A truly enjoyable comedy, I think, is one that sticks with you because it touches on something real. Spending time with someone in the car for a week straight–Andy was taking several meetings across the country to attempt to get his newly-invented cleaning spray onto the shelves of several prominently-displayed stores–will teach you mostly everything you need to know about a person, and I can only imagine that it’d be most difficult with a parent, someone you think you know the best, but probably don’t at all. If you see this movie, soak in that potentially uncomfortable feeling. It’ll only last a few minutes, because it’ll be interrupted by a laugh, but it’ll also make you call your mother. Which you should do.