People who love Barbra are not the luckiest people in the world, when it comes to her recent choice of film scripts.
In "The Guilt Trip," just her third movie of the millennium, La Streisand elects to play Joyce, the widowed mother of Andy, played by Seth Rogen. He is lumpy, grumpy and nerdy -- not quite seven but several emotional dwarfs rolled into one son.
Andy, a brilliant chemist and inventor, is embarking on a cross-country road trip to find distributors for his miraculous new organic-cleaning fluid. But first, he makes a quick dutiful stop to say 'bye to mom in New Jersey.
2.5 stars = Average
Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen.
PG-13 for language and some risque material.
They have more issues than The New York Times (notably, his failures with women and her overbearing insistence that he hydrate at all times), but his discovery that she has an old boyfriend in San Francisco prompts his impulsive invitation for her to go along for the ride. In a sub-compact. The odd couple's Oedipal odyssey -- an eight-day Freudian slip of a trip -- is highlighted by her Gap-withdrawal and her insistence on being present during his product presentations.
You're only as good, bad or indifferent as your material, and the screenplay by Dan Fogelman (a childhood Pittsburgher from Bethel Park) is decidedly indifferent, pardon the oxymoron. Joyce, the generic-Jewish mother, is reportedly modeled on his own. But their banter lacks either Yiddish or Yinzer pizazz.
Pity director Anne Fletcher, with just a couple of lightweight pictures ("27 Dresses" and "The Proposal") under her belt, directing the most enduring icon in American showbiz. Daunted, to say the least, Ms. Fletcher treats her like a monument instead of a menschy mom -- moving her around with the stiff reverence of transporting the Statue of Liberty or the Space Shuttle from place to place.
In theory, the characters are traveling cross-country. In fact, the semi-reclusive star agreed to do the film only if she didn't have to travel more than 45 minutes from her house in Malibu! It shows. Stand-ins are filmed from behind in the B-roll location shots, the most embarrassingly obvious being at the Grand Canyon.
Pity poor Mr. Rogen equally, or more -- so dwarfed by her presence, you almost need a magnifying glass to see him. This sad-sack son with double chin, spare tire and 5 o'clock shadow, looks older than his incredibly youthful mom, who appears to be maybe 45 or 50 max -- not 70 years. Somewhere in Ms. Streisand's attic is a portrait, aging a la Dorian Gray's. If not quite a "Funny Girl" any more, she's far from a Funny Old Lady. She's got two of Hollywood's finest comedies to her credit ("The Owl and the Pussycat" and "What's Up, Doc?"), and was no slouch in "Meet the Fockers" (2004), as well.
Paramount was so sure Ms. Streisand would get a Golden Globe nomination for this performance that they posted a congratulatory ad online, just before the nominations were announced, only to pull it swiftly when her name was missing from the list. Which is not to mock her or gloat over. On Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" the other day, she spoke quietly about how the older a star gets, the more many people/critics want them to fail.
Not me. My Babs fan credentials go back to 1963, watching her with my parents on that legendary Judy Garland Show.
"Guilt Trip" isn't terrible. It has some amusing dialogue. (When Andy moans, "I'm not a showman," Joyce replies, "That's ridiculous -- remember how good you were in 'Man of la Mancha' in high school?") Folks at the preview screening seemed to like it, judging by the applause. Even badly scripted and directed and operating on two or three of her eight cylinders, Ms. Streisand is always enjoyable. This just isn't what it could or should have been, not what we want from one of the greatest singer-comedians of all time. Don't get your hopes up, by the way: She never sings here.
But that speaking voice, that delivery, that face -- and those nails? Still like butter.
Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.