The Guilt Trip

December 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbra Streisand, Dale Dickey
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid Love”)

About halfway through “The Guilt Trip,” Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) looks on as his widowed mother Joyce (Barbra Streisand) eats a 4-pound steak at a Texas restaurant during a layover on their cross-country road trip. Filled to the brim with red meat, I would have bet $100 that Joyce’s entire meal would have been violently vomited out all over the interior of the vehicle as soon as she buckled herself in. Never mind that the legendary Streisand would have been the one puking; it was the presence of Rogen, known for his roles in raunchy comedies, that had me waiting for something gross to happen. I mean, his frustratingly over-bearing mother ate a steak the size of a small dog and was cramming herself into a comically-undersized car. That’s a setup for a spew if I’ve ever seen one, right? Weirdly…no.

Anyway, anyone with a mother will find a frustration to relate to in “The Guilt Trip.” Rogen’s Andy lives far from his mom in Los Angeles. Andy is a former biochemist turned inventor struggling to pitch his all-natural cleaning product to disinterested retailers. Even from 3,000 miles away in New York, Joyce dotes on Andy, leaving dozens of voice mails about everything from the underwear she bought him at The Gap to theories she developed with her friends about his failed love life. When Andy visits his mother on the eve of a big sales trip, Joyce confides in him that he’s named after a long-lost love. Deciding that his mother, who hasn’t dated since her husband died more than 20 years ago, deserves to be happy, Andy concocts a plan. After secretly tracking down his namesake, Andy invites Joyce along on his road trip, intent on surprising her in San Francisco at the doorstep of the man she once loved.

One would be forgiven for expecting this to be a typical Seth Rogen comedy. After all, there aren’t many live-action movies featuring the actor that you’d be comfortable watching with your mother in the same room. “The Guilt Trip” changes that, though, with an amusing (if not laugh-out-loud funny) screenplay from Disney and Pixar vet Dan Fogelman and a fun performance from Streisand, who is game all the way through. This time around, it’s the younger viewers who might be experiencing discomfort as Streisand’s character hits a little too close to home. While Joyce often veers dangerously close to stereotypical “annoying Jewish mother” territory, she winds up tossing out just enough recognizable nuggets of nagging Rogen’s way to spark twinges of, “Ugh, my mom says the exact same thing!” recognition in every member of the audience.

Yeah, sorry Mom. Even me.

The Proposal

June 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”)
Written by: Pete Chiarelli (debut)

It’s fairly easy to compare the new Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “The Proposal” to the 1990 film “Green Card” starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. Both are conventional stories about two people scamming the immigration system so one can stay in the U.S. Both have lead characters with natural chemistry.

But where ‘The Proposal” differs drastically from the Peter Weir-directed rom-com of 20 years ago is the dynamic in which the two lead characters’ relationship is written. While Depardieu and MacDowell are portrayed as strangers who are basically doing each other a favor, Bullock and Reynolds have an everyday working rapport that disrupts the already sitcom-like storyline.

In “The Proposal,” Bullock plays Margaret Tate, an icy New York book publisher who learns she is being deported to Canada because she failed to renew her citizenship. Desperate to stay in the country, she turns to her always-reliable personal assistant Andrew Paxon (Reynolds) who hopes his role as her whipping boy (he goes on latté and tampon runs for her) will only last until the company publishes his manuscript.

When Margaret blackmails Andrew into marrying her so she can get legal status, both see a way to get what they want. But when a suspicious immigration officer questions the veracity of their engagement, the quasi-couple is forced to verify their relationship by traveling to Andrew’s home in Alaska to tell his family that he is about to marry the boss he has always complained about.

What is it about the state of Alaska that screenwriters find so humorous that they have to set their story there? Renée Zellweger did the same thing in last year’s unpleasant romantic comedy “New in Town.” Here, Bullock and Reynolds team up with the Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Oscar Nuñez, and the charming Betty White to slush through the snow one predictable step after another. Since Margaret and Andrew have known each other for so long, there is no sense of discovery between the two although they are supposed to be learning about one other during their trip so they can pass a mandatory couple’s test administered by U.S. Immigration. There should be cause for concern and at least the impression of anxiousness in these characters, but instead first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli executes everything so fluffy there’s not much to stand on other than a couple of amusing performances.

Along with former “Golden Girl” White’s rare and funny appearance, it’s really Reynolds’ familiar humor that keeps the film from taking a dive. Even when Reynolds takes on a role that has him portray a more sensitive character like Andrew, his deeply-rooted sardonic traits peer out through his boyish eyes. It really is the highlight of the film and keeps Bullock’s character from blowing up into more of a caricature than it already is.

If rom-coms are the flavor you like, you can do a lot worse than “The Proposal.” It’s harmless, second-rate material just good enough for a date movie with a girl you necessarily don’t want to impress with your keen cinematic taste.

27 Dresses

January 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (“Step Up”)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

It’s almost shocking to see that the same screenwriter who was responsible for “The Devil Wears Prada,” a polished and classy female-free-for-all, wrote “27 Dresses.” As much as “Devil” was scathing and enjoyable, “Dresses” is really nothing more than chick-flick leftovers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some estrogen-filled entertainment, but not when it’s pre-packaged like the new Katherine Heigl vehicle. Heigl definitely has the comedic chops to keep up in the genre. She proved that last year in the wildly funny “Knocked Up.” She has a panache (almost like a Julia Roberts but without the overbearing glut) and manages to carry a few scenes on her own despite her limited feature film career (anyone remember her in “Under Siege 2”?)

In “Dresses,” Heigl hams it up again as Jane, a woman so obsessed with weddings that she has an entire closet in her apartment dedicated to the 27 of the happiest days of other women’s lives. In each of them, Jane has been a bridesmaid. Okay, let’s get the “always a bridesmaid never a bride” cliché out of the way before we continue.

Never able to say no to a friend who asks her to be a part of her ceremony, Jane has known since she was a little girl that weddings were her true calling. She thinks she might even want to have one of her own if her boss George (Burns) would sweep her off her feet the way all girls dream to be courted in movie land.

When Jane finally gets the nerve to confront George and tell him how she feels, she is undercut by her drop-dead-gorgeous sister Tess (Malin Akerman), who immediately catches George’s attention with a few flirtatious exchanges and fabrications.

Before you know it, Jane is planning her sister’s wedding to the man she wants to marry (or at least go out on a date with). She is so caught up in her love triangle, she blatantly ignores Kevin (Marsden), a persistent lifestyle and style reporter who is interested in her as the subject for his next puffy newspaper article.

As a romantic comedy, there’s not too many hearts fluttering to keep anyone’s interest for long and most of the jokes stay with the safe confines of rehearsal dinners and bouquets. You’ve seen it before in all its formulaic glory, so instead, go out and rent “My Best Friend’s Wedding” again and save yourself from a wasted night. If you do decide you want to see it “Dresses,” consider yourself warned and marked as a born sucker for anything that resembles a sassy rom-com.