The Guilt Trip:Not a *Horrible* Experience

By Derek Ruth · December 23, 2012

When was the last time you had a bottle of Diet Coke that was just amazing?   I'm talking, like, the highlight of your day, or even of just the past couple hours.  Don't get me wrong—I like Diet Coke.  But has any of us, ever, had one and thought "This is the most delicious thing I've had in ages.  I can't wait to experience it all over again?"  I doubt it.  And so, The Guilt Trip is like a bottle of Diet Coke.  It tastes fine, it's not a horrible experience, yet when it's over you don't feel the slightest bit different.  It just exists. 

And that sucks, because I was quite pumped to hate this movie and write a scathing review.  I'm not a pessimist or anything; it's just that I've only recently started this review business, and all the reviews I’ve done so far have been films that I thought were average, but nothing special.  So driving to the theatre tonight, after seeing Trip's 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I figured…well, if nothing else, I'm gonna be able to change my reviews up a little bit, and rip some poor director's dreams to shreds!

Call it the Christmas spirit, maybe, but I just can't hate The Guilt Trip.  I can't like it, either; it's as bland and vanilla as a movie can get these days, and to be honest, I will always prefer a movie that fails while swinging for the fences than one that succeeds in being average.  There isn't a single moment in Guilt Trip that's surprising, original, or especially creative.  But there are also few moments where you're sitting there thinking "What a piece of shit."  I had to see half of Adam Sandler's recent puke-fest That's My Boy, and that is a movie you can easily and very readily hate.  But Guilt Trip is just….a bottle of Diet Coke.  It only lives to gently please someone…probably someone of middle age.

And perhaps that's my problem—I'm simply the wrong demographic for this film.  Mother's of any age, of any race, from any country, will adore this movie.  Guaranteed.  It stars Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand as mother and son who go on a road trip across the States; she believes it's to help him sell his bizarre cleaning product, but secretly he wants to hook her back up with an old flame in San Francisco. Plot wise, it's….mighty thin.  We can all agree on that.  But hey, so was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, right?  There's something about the road movie genre that screams out "bland," even when it's done really well, like with Automobiles.  Guilt Trip hits every stop you'd expect, and I'm not talking geographically—the scene where they run into an old girlfriend of Rogen's, the fight about her smothering attitude, truths delivered over booze, the wacky-shenanigans in a steakhouse, and the eventual discovery of Rogen's plans.  It's all there, like a well-planned map of the country-side; hell, at two points I even predicted the upcoming camera movements, and was immediately proven right.

So if it's that predictable…why see it?  Should you see it at all?  Well…maybe, yeah.  It's a PG rated comedy (i.e. a film genre that, these days, is more extinct than the dinosaurs). There's no sex scenes, no violence, and only one f-bomb—many may find that a detriment, and while I usually love the raunchy comedies, it's all becoming a bit much, don't you think?  Rogen channels a different kind of character for once (I often saw Michael Cera in the dialogue), and he does a decent job of it.  Streisand is, perhaps most surprisingly, not completely annoying, and has a few genuinely touching scenes.  There's some worthwhile stuff here, if you can look past the overall mediocrity of everything on screen.  If the screenplay (by Dan Fogelman, who wrote the wonderful Crazy Stupid Love) had delivered something even remotely new or fresh, I would've been willing to accept a lot.  But strangely, the script is almost too realistic, too normal, too lackadaisical.  Most of the movie is honestly just two decent people mildly arguing and discussing.  That's it.  No caricatures, no over-the-top scenes or comedy moments, just…two nice people sitting in a car.  And that is both a positive (we don't see nice people in movies too often) and a detriment (it can get mighty boring).  The film needed something zany—I can just imagine Rogen's character from Pineapple Express stuck with his mom on a road trip, and I think the movie would be a lot funnier, and better.

But overall, Guilt Trip is what it is; Diet freakin' Coke.  I would say it is certainly not worth a trip to the theatre, but it's also slightly better than the reviews suggest (only slightly, but still).  And hey, if nothing else…my Mom would love it.  In an age where we can see all the Batmans and war movies and gross-out comedies involving endless amounts of boobs and semen…is it such a bad thing, to make a movie for moms?