Like Hope Springs earlier this year, The Guilt Trip sets out to explore an estranged familial relationship without sensationalizing it. That's a promising idea, and the strained ties that bind Barbra Streisand's overprotective mother to Seth Rogen's petulant inventor are interesting enough to sustain a movie.
Sadly, The Guilt Trip is not that movie.
Rogen's Andrew Brewster is all that his widowed mother, Joyce (Streisand), seems to think about. She calls him constantly, worrying over him and nudging him toward hydrating more often or doing Pilates. Andrew has other things on his mind, though — mainly trying to peddle his ecofriendly stain cleaner to Costco and Kmart.
Still, Andrew worries about his mother, too. So when Joyce tells him that he was named after someone she once loved very much, he takes it upon himself to reunite his mother with the man who got away. That means doing what every mismatched buddy team has done since Stan met Ollie: Hitting the road together and trying to bond.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman's good intentions rarely rise above his and director Anne Fletcher's staid execution. They burden Joyce with buffoonish tics and fail to develop the dynamic between mother and son, substituting bland dialogue, trite sentiments and lousy jokes. There's a dire montage in which Andrew asks Joyce about menopause while the Scissor Sisters chirp "Take Your Mama" on the soundtrack, and there's a toxic meet-cute involving a Texas good old boy (Brett Cullen) and a 4-pound steak.
Streisand's comic gifts — scarcely given a warm-up in the Focker movies, let alone a workout — are wasted here. She's allowed to give a fairly down-to-earth performance in the movie's first third, but that soon devolves into full-on diva shtick. The Guilt Trip never questions why its characters act the way they do, and it doesn't let them forge a meaningful new relationship. Instead, there's the usual banal idea of happily ever after: a new beau for Joyce, a business deal for Andrew, and eternal reruns on TBS in the coming years.