December is the month when epics and award contenders get released, not comedies. So when The Guilt Trip, a mother-son road trip comedy bounced around the release schedule for months and got a title change (it was originally titled My Mother’s Curse) and ended up with a late December release, it wasn’t a good sign, especially since it stars the popular Seth Rogen. After all, Rogen’s movies tend to get a lot of buzz and news about this film, which teams him with Barbra Stresiand in her first lead role since the 1990s, would normally generate some big buzz. So when The Guilt Trip is nearly sneaking into theaters with little publicity smack in the middle of Christmas season, expectations can’t be set high.
Andy (Rogen) is a scientist who has staked his entire life savings on an all-natural cleaning product he invented, but is incredibly dry and awkward when he pitches his product to companies. He visits his overbearing mother, Joyce (Stresiand), on the eve of a cross-country road trip in which he has several pitches lined up. In an effort to help Andy with his inability to connect with women, she tells Andy that before she married his deceased father she had a serious boyfriend who she named him after. Andy (her son) looks up Andy (the old boyfriend) and discovers that he moved to San Francisco years ago, so Andy decides to invite her along on the road trip in the hope that he could reunite his mother with her former love. Of course, Andy’s pitches don’t go well when his meddling mother insists on involving herself in them, even if she is offering the perfect advice to get him to loosen up.
Every overbearing Jewish mother stereotype that you’ve ever heard has been incorporated in the script. As a result, the usually likable Rogen is reduced to a milquetoast to contrast with her personality, and it really is a total waste of Rogen’s talent as a comedian. The filmmakers could’ve spliced this up into twenty-two minute segments and added a laugh track and everyone would totally buy it as one of those bad sitcoms canceled really early in the season. The material simply isn’t funny, and is by far the worst thing Dan Fogelman has ever written (and he also wrote the pedestrian Crazy, Stupid, Love and Fred Claus). Director Anne Fletcher has a long history with choreography and has directed romantic comedies in the past (27 Dresses and The Proposal), but she isn’t experienced enough with comedy to make this work. There’s more laughs in an average half-hour episode of even a post-Steve Carell episode of The Office than in this entire 90 minute movie.
Rogen and Stresiand have limited chemistry, and it says a lot that characters in road trip comedies who are unrelated (like the leads in Due Date and Planes, Trains and Automobiles) have more of a relationship. When actors playing a mother and her son can’t form a meaningful relationship on screen, how does anyone expect audiences to care about the predictable narrative arc and the inevitable happy ending? I imagine the only audience that might enjoy the film would be mothers who are as big of a pain in the ass as Joyce is to Andy… and they’re not the type to drive up the box office.
With the box office failures of nearly every comedy by the “Apatow gang” over the last two years, it’s clear that Rogen isn’t connecting with audiences like he did five years ago. In no way was The Guilt Trip a good career move for Rogen to bring audiences back.
Rating: A dull, unfunny movie that is a waste of 90 minutes and the worst comedy Rogen has made yet (1.5/10).