Just when you thought Barbra Streisand would never emerge from the shadows of bad cinema again (especially after the less than quality dreck that was Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers), she reappears on the film scene with Anne Fletcher's (known for her rom-com steez with films like 27 Dresses and The Proposal) The Guilt Trip. Based on screenwriter Dan Fogelman's own road trip with his mother, there is a certain genuine quality to the movie, particularly when taking into account the (non-sexual) chemistry between Seth Rogen and Streisand.
Andy Brewster (Rogen) is a talented organic chemist who recently invented an all-natural cleaning product that he must now pitch to different stores (e.g. K Mart, Orchard, Costco) in order to get it sold on shelves. Unfortunately, Andy's presentation is generally stale and offputting. After his latest pitch is rejected in Los Angeles, Andy sets out to visit his mother, Joyce (Streisand), in New Jersey. Joyce's overprotective, over-involved Jewish mother tendencies have already been established via the slew of messages she has left him regarding everything from wishing him luck on his meeting to buying him a new pair of pants from the Gap.
Andy's demeanor upon arriving in New Jersey is overtly melancholic, though Joyce seems absolutely oblivious to it as she insists on inviting her friends over to show Andy off the same night. Dotingly, Andy sits through the dinner, enduring the old lady banter and hearing Gayle (Kathy Najimy), Anita (Miriam Margolyes) and Diana (Rose Abdoo) harangue Joyce about going to their singles mixer. Later, when Andy convinces her to actually go, Joyce regards every suitor as an odious goyim--her best line being, "Don't talk to me right now 'cause I'm thinking."
After the lack of enthusiasm Joyce expresses at the event, Andy questions her about it at the dinner table when they get home. Joyce simply replies, "You know what it comes down to? M and Ms in bed"--meaning she won't sacrifice eating M and Ms and leaving the wrappers in her bed at night just so a man can feel comfortable lying next to her. Joyce then poses Andy her own question about why he has yet to settle down with someone. Andy jokingly insists that it's because no woman will ever compare to his mother. It is then that Joyce makes the confession that she feels partly responsible for stunting Andy emotionally, leading her to admit that the true love of her life was not Andy's father, but another man named Andrew, whom she actually named Andy after.
Deeply affected by the story, Andy investigates the current whereabouts of Andrew Margolis and discovers he is living in San Francisco. Hatching a plan to reunite his mother with the love of her life, Andy invites her (with reluctant gusto) to accompany him on his road trip as he tries to sell more units of Scieoclean (often mistakenly called Psychoclean). Elated by the invitation, Joyce insists that they stop in Nashville to pay a visit to Jessica (Yvonne Strahovski), his first girlfriend. Andy balks at the suggestion, as well as Joyce's theory that Andy hasn't been able to move on because he never truly got closure (ugh) with her. And, to make matters worse, Joyce has selected Middlesex as the book on tape for their road trip.
Weaving the perfect blend of comedy with sentimentality, the symbiotic acting of Streisand and Rogen allows them to play off one another seamlessly. Even during moments of contention (like when Andy finally snaps at Joyce in a Texas hotel room), the believability of how much they care about one another never wanes. And it is part of this rapport that makes this version of the road trip movie so unique. Whereas other films with the road trip at the center of it tend to focus on the testing and strengthening of friendships, The Guilt Trip is singular in its emphasis on a mother-son relationship--and what happens when that relationship is confined to a car.
While The Guilt Trip may certainly not have redefined Streisand's epic film career (including, most notably, The Owl and the Pussycat, What's Up, Doc?, Funny Girl and The Prince of Tides), it has most assuredly redefined the parameters of what a road trip movie has the potential to be.