Road-trip films took a new turn on Dec. 19, 2012, with the release of “The Guilt Trip.” Starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a surprisingly hilarious mother-son duo, the film manipulates the traditional road-trip film formula, resulting in ninety-five minutes of some of the best comedy audiences will see this year. The question that lingers in the background of such accolades is this: How does the clean-cut singer hold her own so well with a raunchy physical comic like Rogen?
About “The Guilt Trip”
Andy (Rogen) leaves his job at the US Environmental Protection Agency to pursue his dream of inventing and selling environmentally friendly cleaning products. He embarks upon a cross-country trip to pitch his products to big-box retailers and national hardware stores. After an unsuccessful trip, he stops to visit his mother, Joyce (Barbra Streisand), a typical helicopter mom. She hovers and nags, but her over-involvement masks sadness and loneliness. Joyce, trying to connect with her son, reveals that she named him for a long-lost love she’d known before she met Andy’s father. When Andy looks up the ex-lover, he learns he is an executive who might be able to help launch his cleaning products, and Andy and Joyce set out on the road to find him.
Bucking the Road Trip Formula
Streisand would appear, at first glance, to be the straight man to Rogen’s standard raunchy comedy. In fact, the initial casting for this film seems to suggest that Streisand would be subjected to some of Rogen’s more well-known physical pranks. However, Streisand uses Joyce’s age and her clingy love for her son to great comedic effect. Meanwhile, Rogen’s Andy simply submits to his mother’s whims, which leads to even more hilarity.
Their images from previous work (Streisand is known for classics such as “Yentl” and “A Star is Born,” while Seth Rogen is known for comedies including “Pineapple Express” and “Knocked Up”) make audiences curious enough to venture into the theater for “The Guilt Trip” to see just how these two opposites work together. Rogen does not bring Streisand down to his normal level of raunchiness, and Streisand doesn’t try to make Rogen use more mature comedic delivery. Instead, the two actors use their images to draw audiences into the film. The two complement one another, and Rogen gives Streisand the spotlight on several very funny occasions.
The Singer with All the Punchlines
Streisand plays Joyce as a worried mother who is consumed with her son and lonely after years of focusing only on him. Andy eats up the attention until Joyce goes too far, such as when she asks about his toilet habits. Rogen’s and Streisand’s chemistry works together so that neither appears to steal the show, but Rogen often lets Streisand take the lead while he just plays along.
Breaking the Road-Trip Mold
Rogen and Streisand also break some of the common rules of road-trip movies in “The Guilt Trip.” Films such as “Due Date,” featuring Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr., demonstrate character growth by the end of the film. Such movies begin with a mismatched pair, usually a disheveled free spirit and a type-A personality. By the end of the movie, the free spirit will grow up and the overachiever will learn to relax. In “Thelma and Louise,” starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, a life-altering incident occurs during the trip. This type of life-altering incident and the aforementioned character development are both hallmarks of the road-trip genre, but “The Guilt Trip” features neither. In the end, Andy and Joyce both grow, but by learning about each another rather than learning about themselves, and no life-changing circumstances take place either.
It’s worth noting that Streisand is no stranger to Rogen’s brand of comedy. As Ben Stiller’s sex-therapist mother in “Meet the Fockers” and “The Little Fockers,” Streisand has taken a turn at crude humor before, and fans of those movies may be pleased to see her back in a similar role. Ultimately, in spite of wildly contrasting personas, Streisand and Rogen make a perfect mother and son team.