“The Guilt Trip” is a comfort film, the cinematic equivalent to a big, fuzzy sweater knitted by Mom. Thanks to an easygoing chemistry between Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mother and son on a cross-country car ride, “The Guilt Trip” is pleasant and light, and writer Dan Fogelman and director Anne Fletcher mostly aim this vehicle toward unchallenging, sentimental terrain, but Rogen and Streisand make the best of what would otherwise be a TV movie-level diversion.
Rogen's Andy Brewster is a California-based organic chemist who spent years creating a household cleanser with a bad name — Scioclean. After several strikeouts pitching his product to retail chains, he stops in to see his mother, Joyce (Streisand), back in suburban New Jersey. Joyce is a classic smothering mother, but despite her quirks there is real love behind all her overprotective meddling. Andy senses his widowed mother's loneliness, and after she tells him a story about a past boyfriend, the son cooks up a plan: He can take Joyce along on his coast-to-coast trip with stops along the way to sell Scioclean, and possibly reunite his mother with her old beau in San Francisco.
Road-trip movies are predictable almost by definition — the plot is literally mapped out — so the real challenge comes in how much comedic or dramatic tension can be generated between two people wedged into a compact car. Rogen got his start in sharp-edged and substantial comedies and Streisand's well-documented talent speaks for itself, but in “The Guilt Trip,” they are lobbing softballs. Any time an opportunity for something a little daring presents itself — a mother-and-son visit to a Tennessee strip club to duck out of a snowstorm, for instance — Fogelman's script backs away and moves down the road.
Despite the milquetoast material, Streisand and Rogen play well off one another and project a believable bond, and this is the saving grace of “The Guilt Trip.” It is nice to see Streisand in a starring role — beyond minor supporting performances in “Meet the Fockers” and “Little Fockers,” this is her first major film appearance since 1996's “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” She still can carry a movie, but “The Guilt Trip” is strictly a light-lifting exercise.
— George Lang
‘The Guilt Trip'
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen. (Language and some risque material)