It seems to me there should be a more relaxed standard for measuring Netflix Instant films. The theatrical experience, involving as it does significant outlay of cash, as well as dragging your ass to a crowded venue with possible gunplay, quite naturally demands a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. But the home theater experience seems to call for something a little less definitive, say a stick figure reviewer in various degrees of proneness on a sofa. Eyes open, strictly optional.
When The Guilt Trip was released in 2012 it was savaged by the critics as predictable and lame, but on a leather recliner with dog and husband, the film reveals new virtues. In what must be one of the most mellow road trips of all time, Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand cross the country together as he tries to market a new organic cleanser that he, a chemist, has devised. Now, don't get me wrong, this plot is deeply tiresome. I can tell you most of the ingredients that go into "ScieOClean" -- coconut and soy and something else, maybe cilantro -- because we are inexplicably forced to watch his spiel again and again. Yet even here, the weak point of the film, I see a metaphor for the gentle pleasure of The Guilt Trip; in place of the corrosive, blasted hilarity of the Fockers or Hangover comedies, the films that it most readily suggests, this movie does its job gently, in an environmental and nap friendly manner.
The joys of The Guilt Trip lie almost entirely with its two principals, Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. While not a huge Babs fan, I do recognize her legendary status, and I have grown up alongside that legend. The movie has a lot of fun with her persona. Instead of Barbra the accomplished perfectionist, renowned connoisseur and world traveler, we get the thoroughly mundane Joyce Brewster, who delights in trips to the Gap and collecting ceramic frogs. Streisand revels in a series of unflattering jogging suits and t-shirts. Is she wearing a fat padding? Probably, but I dearly hope not. In short, Streisand's constantly undercutting of her own grandiose image provides a reliable frisson of pleasure throughout this low-key effort. And Seth Rogen has crept up on me as a wry and charming leading man. What other Hollywood man would get all buff to play a purposefully stupid superhero sendup, in The Green Hornet? Or work repeatedly with women directors, like here, or play nice in other female-centered comedies like Knocked Up? The dude evinces a laudable ability to be simultaneously funny and sane. Maybe because he's Canadian. In any case, he's welcome on my couch any time.
The Guilt Trip is not high art, but it has enough odd turns and small scale satisfactions for the Netflix experience, especially, I suspect, for those born in the years B.S. to A.B. (Before Seth but After Babs). Happy cocooning.