Film: ‘The Guilt Trip’ (2012)

Paramount Pictures

“The Guilt Trip” seems like an unassuming road-trip movie. On the surface, it’s about two travelers – a son whose lack of professional success is eating away at his self-esteem, and his mother whose love for her son fuels her eating. But the movie’s a lot more clever than that.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, “The Guilt Trip” puts its own twist on the “devouring mother” (Pluto-Moon) archetype. But instead of demonizing Joyce Brewster (Barbra Streisand) into a “Mommie Dearest” caricature who eats her young, the movie depicts her as a mom who literally can’t stop eating, from the candies she crunches in bed to the massive slab of steak – about the size of  “a small poodle” – she manages to ingest, with only slight effort, in Texas. Love-starved and a widow, Joyce knows that the tasty morsel that would truly sate her, in a good way, is her son whom she refers to as “the love of my life” and “my perfect boy.” That’s lots of pressure on her adult child Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen), who’s not having any of it.

Andy, a chemist down on his luck – he’s tried unsuccessfully to get distribution for his cleaning-product for years – visits Joyce. He learns for the first time that his mom had fallen deeply in love before her marriage. Andy does a bit of sleuthing, finds out where the old beau resides, and invites Mom to accompany him on a cross-country sales trek. His endgame, though, is the hope Mom will meet the former boyfriend, rekindle that old spark and stop micro-managing her son’s life.

True, “The Guilt Trip” only pushes Andy’s guilt so far. Compared with larger-than-life “devouring mother” types, Joyce qualifies as Guzzler-Lite. And, as far as suspense goes, with Streisand and Rogen at the wheel there’s no reason to doubt that Joyce deeply transforms (Pluto) her mothering style (Moon), and Andy changes (Pluto) the way he sees Mom (Moon). Still, the movie’s biggest takeaway is that being eaten alive by someone else often means we’re consuming ourselves in the process. Teach your children well.

Rating: ☽/♇   (Moon/Pluto)

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