Andy (Seth Rogen) is a nebbish inventor of an eco-safe universal solvent that he can’t sell because he has the salesmanship of Droopy Dogg. When he finds out his widowed mom Joyce (Barbra Streisand) named her son after her long-lost love, Andy decided to combine a cross-country sales trip into a mother-son bonding experience.
Yeah, it sounds stupid and cliched, and sometimes it is (there are no plot twists that will catch you unawares), but the magic of The Guilt Trip is that, in spite of that, it wins you over, and easily so.
You don’t have to be Jewish to have a Jewish mother, and Joyce embodies that quality in a manner that seems authentic but never cloying. Is she idiosyncratic and frustrating to her son? Sure. Is talking about sex with the woman who birthed you uncomfortable? It can be, especially when she forces you to listen to a book-on-tape (Middlesex) with an intergender leading character. But the gimmicks never become cartoonish, and Barbra, radiant as the noonday sun (they shaved about 20 years off her real age to make the character work, but you believe it), makes you jealous that Andy ended up with someone who doesn’t destroy his life. This isn’t Throw Momma from the SUV — it’s Mary and Tonto.
It’s also a fine addition to the genre of heartwarming road trip movies, from Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Rain Man to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and like all those, its heart sustains it as much as its humor. Rogen, who has a face like The Joker poking through a laundry basket of dirty socks, uses his patented awkward dork role to good effect, but it’s the luminous Streisand who drives away with the show.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Three stars. PG-13. 95 mins. Now playing.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2012.