Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: The Guilt Trip

If there's one thing Barbra Streisand is great at, it's beying annoying. For hundreds of years, she's perfected her ability to make you cringe by her mere, grating presence. This is not a skill that usually makes for a good movie, but in The Guilt Trip, she's managed to find a film that does just that.

The Guilt Trip is a movie about how much it would suck to be forced to deal with Streisand for 95 minutes. It finds humor in that truly heinous prospect and strangles it out for your pleasure. In the easiest role of Seth Rogen's life, all he has to do is roll his eyes, bark snide comments and keep from killing himself and everyone wins. Streisand is a star of the silver screen again and Rogen is in a movie funny enough to make you forget Observe and Report and The Green Hornet.

For managing what the Focker sequels could not, and making a successful and charming Streisand commentary, Anne Fletcher deserves to be hailed as some sort of scientist making an amazing discovery, such as managing to turn nail clippings into crude oil.

Visibly agitated at being left out of the latest Judd Apatow movie, Rogen is at his bitter, hate-filled best. He's Andrew, an entrepreneur who has mortgaged his past, present and future on an awfully named drinkable cleaning product, and he hopes to make good on a national tour of the highest-bidding corporate retail sponsors.

Pitying his mom's inability to move on from her long-dead husband, Andrew decides to tote her along, hoping to hook her up with an old flame at the end of the sojourn. The result is part Planes, Trains and Automobiles, part Dumb & Dumber and part Tommy Boy. The comedy, for the most part, is based on misunderstandings and conflicts that arise from the different levels of love the characters share. As smothering momma Joyce, Streisand loves her boy like Chris Farley loved his dinner roll, and Andrew loves Joyce like bowling pins love bowling balls.

Rogen's palpable hatred of Streisand, shared by every living thing on the planet, is what lifts the movie up where we belong. Some may mistake the performance as an act; possibly the result of excellent chemistry between two gifted actors, but they are overthinking stuff. This is basically just a documentary of Streisand being herself, trying to break Rogen's soul with her mere presence, and Rogen trying to survive until Apatow rescues him once again.

Yet there is no hope of escape, and that's why the movie works so well. The mental and emotional torture Rogen endures translates to comic bliss. His sacrifice is filmdom's gain.

Starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Written by Dan Fogelman. Directed by Anne Fletcher. Rated PG-13. 95 minutes.

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