Although they live at different ends of the country, Andrew Brewster (Seth Rogen) and his widowed mother Joyce (Barbra Streisand) like to keep in touch, she in New Jersey and he in California. Or she likes to keep in touch with him at any rate, sending him messages morning, noon and night, but he is busy with his new invention, a cleaning product manufactured from one hundred percent natural materials which is a lot better for the environment than anything else on the market, or so Andrew believes. However, he is having trouble convincing his prospective clients...
So what better course of action to take than to go home to mother? Well, he was going to do that anyway, but as he lines up a few more companies who might be interested in his cleaner he stops over at Joyce's and in longsuffering fashion puts up with her idea of how to celebrate his return: spend the evening with her and her friends, who she wants to show him off to. This is something he could do without, but it does plant the idea in his mind which sets off the trip of the title, taking its own sweet time turning up in Dan Fogelman's screenplay, but a solid foundation for your story is not to be sneezed at.
Thus Andrew realises that his mother would be better off with a romantic partner in her life, it's been long enough after the passing of her husband after all, and after a mature singles night goes without incident, Joyce mentions the love of her life before she met her spouse, the one who got away. A lightbulb practically appears above Andrew's head and he makes up an excuse that he would like to take her on a road trip, ostensibly to spend some quality time with each other but actually because he has tracked the ex-boyfriend down to San Francisco. What better present for his mother than for him to instigate a rekindling of their relationship? And of course the opportunity for us to watch ninenty minutes of embarrassing mother gags.
You could see this, what with the cast and writer, as an extended Jewish mother joke stretched out to lunatic lengths, but Fogelman managed to work in enough points about adult men's attitude to their mothers to render The Guilt Trip a lot more universal than that premise might suggest. As it was, the film did not exactly hit blockbuster status and was generally regarded as a disappointment both financially and by the number of laughs on offer, yet if you forgot about the preconceptions such unwanted publicity inflicted on its reputation and watched it to appreciate how well Streisand and Rogen sparked off one another comedically, you might find yourself chuckling quite often.
A handful of near the knuckle bad taste quips aside (Joyce insists on listening to the audio book of Middlesex on the journey, cue Andrew squirming uncomfortably, for example) this played it fairly safe, but that was not to say it wasn't funny. Both leads had their critics, professional and amateur, but if you gave them a chance you would understand they were a lot better than often given credit for, and if Babs was more suited to playing Seth's grandmother at her age, you could laugh off the difference in years as Hollywood moonshine and a nice change from an ageing actor paired off with some starlet as was so often the case. There were doses of sentimentality which were not quite as welcome, but if Andrew's girlfriend problems and Joyce's widowhood didn't exactly get the tears flowing they were preferable to the masses of product placement the movie included (this couldn't have needed that much funding, surely?). But director Anne Fletcher knew where the strengths lay, keeping both stars interacting in extended sketches. Music by Christophe Beck.