The unlikely pairing of Barbra Streisand with Seth Rogen will probably make many people curious about "The Guilt Trip," which opened in theaters this week.
The way it works as a relatable, down-to-Earth comedy will reward that curiosity for various audiences.
The presence of Streisand - in her first role in a film without "Fockers" in the title in 16 years - will be enough to draw some viewers. Rogen, best known for playing schlubby, often chemically influenced losers in movies like "Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express," appeals to an entirely different demographic.
Some members of that demographic might be disappointed to see that the only mind-altering substance Rogen consumes in this film is a bit of alcohol or that the humor does not even approach the level of raunch that has characterized his previous work. Others, like me, will be pleased to see the obviously talented actor take his comedy out of the gutter for a while.
Rogen plays Andy, a scientist who has invented an environmentally safe cleaning product he hopes to sell to retailers on a cross-country trip launching from his hometown of Newark, N.J. That's where his mother Joyce (Streisand) lives, and a short visit turns into a mother-son road trip thanks to a development that, while it probably would only happen in the movies, isn't entirely unbelievable.
That characterizes most of the film. Joyce is over-bearing and meddling, sure, but not to the extreme you see in many comedies. People might recognize some of her well-intended actions (showing off her son to her friends, constantly reminding him to drink water, critiquing his product design) from their own parents. And while she obviously loves and misses her son, she's not dependent on him for every little thing or comically unable to function in the real world.
As Andy, Rogen isn't the resentful child of many films that just wants to be left alone by his mother, even if he doesn't respond to her constant calls or willingly heed her advice. Their impromptu trip comes from his genuine love for his mom, not the guilt the title implies.
Along the way, they have the expected misadventures and arguments, but no somersaulting cars (a la "Due Date") or Machiavellian schemes to hide some aspect of their lives from one another (think director Anne Fletcher's "The Proposal," where Ryan Reynolds pretends boss Sandra Bullock is his fiancee). These generate laughs, but the greatest source of comedy is the interplay between the leads, a lot of which sounds improvised. In a case of life imitating art, I watched "The Guilt Trip" with my mom, who kept looking over at me and snickering when she recognized similar conversations that we've had.
It's that believability that serves "The Guilt Trip" well in the absence of over-the-top stunts and gags. Even the Hail Mary-type resolution feels unforced and acceptable, and the film leaves its characters changed in a natural, not radical, way.
The term "family film" usually implies a movie is meant for children. This one really isn't for younger ones, due to occasional instances of foul language and a few inappropriate digressions. But it can be entertaining for teens and up, and offers a nice alternative to the mammoth blockbusters, violent action flicks and super-serious Oscar contenders making the rounds in theaters (not that I won't watch some of those as well).