If Seth Rogen is looking to expand his fan base, he just took a giant step in the Mom direction. The chemistry between Rogen and Barbra Streisand in "The Guilt Trip" takes him from Judd Apatow's vulgar stoner millennial to every mother's son in 95 minutes.
As Andrew Brewster, a nerdy inventor trying to pitch an organic cleaning product to store chains across the country with Mom riding shotgun, Rogen at first comes off as a bit of a schlub whose social skills need serious polishing, but his irrepressible charm is never far below the surface. As lovably overbearing mama Joyce, a widow who trains her considerable energy on her only child and his unmarried state, Streisand tones down the wackadoo and actually shows restraint, fluttering French manicure and all.
It is that restraint, buoyed by Rogen's effortless magnetism as her foil, that keeps the movie from going over the guardrails. They both seem to be enjoying themselves, and each other, so much that even when a scene doesn't quite work -- like one in which Joyce gets drunk in a dive bar surrounded by leering rednecks -- you don't mind suspending disbelief.
Other touches, inlcuding Joyce insisting on listening to the books-on-tape version of Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex" in the rental car, and the two of them musing about how long you're supposed to look at the Grand Canyon before you can move on, add layering to gags that are sometimes too literal, as when cost-conscious Joyce chokes down a four-pound steak in a Texas feedhall so she won't have to pay for it.
When the pace drags now and then, you can always focus on Babs. Wonder exactly where she managed to get her hair blown out at that truck stop, and how in the heck she looks so good at 70. Seriously, how does a woman of her age who's had work done avoid that Our Lady of Perpetual Surprise expression?
"The Guilt Trip" knows its audience -- middle-aged and older women -- and for them, it's the entertainment equivalent of a good roadside-diner meal. No big belly laughs, but quite a few chuckles. No catharsis, but some really sweet moments.
Meanwhile, single young men with adoring mothers worried about your futures, screen your calls. I feel a road-trip epidemic coming on.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046