I’m still waiting for Seth Rogen to be really, really funny again, like Knocked Up funny. But unlike The Green Hornet where he seemed to be trying too hard (and Christoph Waltz stole the show as good villains are inclined to do), Rogen turns in a Punch Drunk Love or maybe, Big Fan. That is, this comedian didn’t come just to play, he came to set the drama straight.
Andy (Rogen) has been trying for years to see his organic cleaner make it big, but every year seems to put his dream farther in the rearview mirror. With one last ditch attempt at making a winning sales pitch, he returns home and has a heart-to-heart with his mother, Joyce (Streisand), where she reveals that she met the love of her life before she met his father. As he begins a weeklong drive, he invites her along with the hopes of reuniting her with this love, and getting her out of his hair.
Of course, this isn’t as serious as the two movies I alluded to: there are silly asides like Joyce’s tackling the pounds of steak in an hour contest to try and win a free meal (a la John Candy in The Great Outdoors) and the various misunderstandings people have about their relationship as they travel. But more often than not, we find ourselves coming back to Joyce’s questions about true love and whether she missed it, to Andy’s frustration professionally and his need to establish that he belongs, to their levels of mistrust and apprehension about each other, and finally, to the way that family works when it’s operating correctly.
I know Streisand has stayed at the edge of the public consciousness for years (see her role in the Meet the Parents franchise) but she’s been out of film for almost twenty years. She stepped easily into the role of Rogen’s mother, but I think Rogen’s delivery allows his foil plenty of space. The mother/son dynamic is one that still draws in the third leg of the triangle, the absent father, and shows how much influence a mother raising a son by herself will have. It creates weird dynamics, almost unnaturally, but it allows for nurture and development that might not happen where both parents are there. We see how it made Andy forward thinking and contemplative (even in high school) but we see that the absence of a father also led to some distrust and frustration in his dating relationships.
I think we expect disastrous, physical funny from Rogen. But what if we let him tell a story where we consider our relationships, and how we relate to our parents? What does it look like when we get older, try to live independently, and still find ourselves needing our parents? What happens when we recognize as children that they need us, too? Billy Crystal’s Harry once famously proposed that men and women can’t be friends, but can grown children befriend their parents? Can that work? Ultimately, it seems to me that if we’re not willing to adapt as we age, then we’ve killed off the relationship already.
The Guilt Trip isn’t great, but it’s good enough to be worth viewing. And it will challenge you, if you’re willing, to call your parents and talk about things in your life, and clear the air of things that happened before. But it may also make you recognize that what you have is something different from parent to child: you may actually realize that friendship has grown where separation once reigned.