This film is packaged to look ordinary; a date movie. The title, "The Guilt Trip" adds to that, whereas the title has several possible meanings. Then the cast: Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, two of our most versatile and confusing actors, one gets into this film expecting a typical, safe Hollywood comedy where all the best bits are in the trailer.
Instead we get a script as clever as something Sorkin would write and we see two of the finest performances these two have ever given.
Rogen is a remarkable actor, making every moment honest and in no way a catagory actor. He's a character actor who belongs in lead rles like Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep. And his Oscar is coming. He plays Andy, an unmarried scientist who is marketing a new green cleaning product. He's set up pitch meetings at corporations from New York to San Francisco. His ability to wow them in the board room is like Rosie O'Donnell ballroom dancing with Woody Allen. No one's buying it. But he's got a heart of gold and Rogen's eyes show it with every blink and every blush. He has arranged to take this cross country trip with his mother, a widow since Andy was a boy, and she nags him about finding a nice girl as much as he nags her to find a nice man. Rogen's in the A list here, in a two character film with a living legend and he not only makes it look easy, he knocks it out of the park.
Then there's Streisand who, in the course of a 50 year career as a superstar never delivers exactly what we expect. We've seen Streisand from "Hello, gorgeous" to "Eunice? That's a person named Eunice??" We know to expect high quality from Streisand no matter what she does and occassionally it gets too easy to just expect that.
So Barbra Streisand in "The Guilt Trip." Delivers top quality again but we're surprised because we don't get what we expected and we see a pure character we've never seen before.
Streisand also acts with her eyes, so pairing her with Rogen (the two are executive producers) is sheer brilliance but more so we didn't expect it. Her performance here is Oscar worthy, as has been much of her work, though her last Oscar for acting was "Funny Girl" in the 60's, even after Billy Crystal's very obvious slam to the Academy when "The Prince of Tides" was nominated for seven Oscars except Streisand as best director. (In a fantastic musical opening to the tune of Jule Styne's "Don't Rain On My Parade " he sang:
"Did this film direct itself?"
All four major awards went to "Silence of The Lambs" that year but in 1991 it became clear, by failing to nominate her at all as director, producer and actor, that the Academy was not going to nominate Streisand.
Since then there was no other definative evidence but with "The Guilt Trip" it's clear that to overlook her performance was intentional. That's how good she is. Streisand plays Joyce, Rogen's mother, and she is comfortable within the parameters of her simple life but this cross country trip pulls her out of her comfort zones and she becomes very vulnerable yet stronger.
In their rental car she has brought Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex" book on CD, a brilliant novel about a hermaphrodite who struggles to become whole. The choice of this award winning novel is apt and not at all an accident. Both mother and son have duplicitously, though innocently, arranged for the other to reunite with their first love and it is the power of these meetings, the truths that unfold and how brilliantly these two actors pull it off that makes this film remarkable.
As the trip unfolds so does their relationship and we find bits of ourselves in them as a parent; as a child. The film is about love but more so about unity. There are some wonderful moments of hilarity but the beautiful honest moments are what makes this film a delightful surprise. We're not watching Streisand and Rogen, we're with Andy and Joyce Brewster.
And we're with them all the way. This is an excellent film that's about something.