Sure, we love our parents, but let's face it: There's a reason why most of us leave the nest.
Andy Brewster moved out long ago—leaving his widowed mother's Manhattan-based embrace for sunnier (and quieter) Los Angeles. Not that his mother is ever out of earshot—not with the miracle of cellular technology. She calls in the morning. She calls at night. She calls so frequently that it's a wonder her ear hasn't grown around her phone.
Now Andy's coming back to visit—a stopover on a cross-country business trip. He'll stay for a couple of nights and speed on his way, having done his filial duty.
Or so he imagines.
Everything goes according to script at first. His mother, Joyce, shows Andy off to her friends and encourages him to drink more water. Andy smiles and nods and grits his teeth. When they ask each other why they're not involved in serious relationships, Andy's evasive, Joyce dismissive. "Don't be disgusting," she says. And then she tells him a story: Long ago, before Joyce met Andy's father, she had a fling with a guy in Florida. Things didn't work out, but her feelings for the man were so strong that she named Andy after him.
That night, Andy looks up Joyce's old beau on the Internet—and finds that he's apparently working in San Francisco. Wouldn't it be great, Andy thinks to himself, for Ma to reconnect with her old flame?
The next morning, Andy asks his mom if she'd like to come with him on his trip. It'll be fun, he says. But he doesn't mention that he's really trying to set her up with a piece of her past. He claims he just wants to spend time with her.
Joyce asks incredulously, "You want to spend a week, in a car, with your mother?"
Andy says—teeth visibly clenching—yes.
Clearly, Joyce didn't warn Andy enough about the dangers of lying.
"I was just trying to help," Joyce says to Andy—her way of apologizing for her latest faux pas.
"You always are," Andy bitterly says.
Therein lies the heart of this mother-son relationship—in both the best and the worse sense.
Joyce may be a bit overbearing, a bit clingy, a bit (read: very) intrusive. But she's all those things because of her deep, fierce, motherly love for her boy. As a child, she told Andy he was "the best boy, the most perfect boy in the world," and even though Andy falls far short of perfection, she still believes it in a way. She wants the best for him. She wants him to be happy. And Joyce will do whatever she can to make that happen.
Thankfully, Andy knows it. Sure, Joyce embarrasses him every time they get out of the car, it seems. He can barely tolerate her constant stream of patter and her curious habits. She literally drives him to drink at one juncture. But he knows where Joyce's heart is at, and he appreciates it. And in turn, Andy wants what's best for his mother. And if that means driving cross-country with her to meet an old flame who preceded his own father, well, so be it.
Predictably, the two get on each other's nerves during their cross-country trek. But they both grow a great deal, too. Andy's sense of duty turns into renewed, genuine affection for his ma. And Joyce rekindles her sense of adventure: She realizes that Andy doesn't have to be her whole life. She can still live a little while he's away from her.
And in the end: "You're the love of my life, baby," Mom tells her son. And she means it. "I love you," he tells her back. And he means it.
God gets thanked, even once or twice genuinely.
When the two get caught in a snowstorm, they park in front of a strip club. Then they go inside. Scantily clad women writhe around poles in the background as Joyce tells a deeply embarrassed Andy how his father tried to take her to a topless club once. (He said it'd be sexy.) She also wonders aloud whether the fact that she was both mother and father to Andy (Dad died when Andy was 8) might've messed him up, sexually speaking. They proceed to have a graphic conversation about his penis. And a stripper asks him if he'd like a "private dance." (Andy tells her maybe someday, when his mother's not around.)
Joyce insists on listening to the book Middlesex—a novel with an intersex protagonist—and we hear the reader narrate some racy moments (often abbreviated when an embarrassed Andy turns off the stereo). When an old girlfriend of Andy's wonders aloud why she gets pregnant so often, her husband says the secret is "two margaritas and Love Actually." Joyce says she and her former flame were very passionate.
A motel clerk assumes Joyce and Andy are a couple, winking suggestively at Andy. Mom accuses Andy of wanting to "whore" her out. She mentions that her Pilates instructor is a lesbian. We hear references to hitchhikers raping people.
Andy confronts a bar patron who wants to give (an already soused) Joyce another drink. He punches the guy in the face (hurting his hand). The guy punches Andy back. (We see an ugly bruise on Andy's cheek the next morning.) During the closing credits, a "deleted" scene shows Joyce hitting a pedestrian with a car.
Crude or Profane Language
"Enough with the language, OK?" Joyce tells Andy when he says an s-word in front of her. Alas, it isn't the last such word we hear. An f-word follows, as do a dozen more s-words. "H‑‑‑" pop up a few times, and God's name is misused 25 or more times (once or twice with "d‑‑n"). Jesus' name is abused two or three times.
Actor/producer Seth Rogen's response to that tally, according to Entertainment Weekly? "This is actually one of the first PG-13 comedies I've ever done. So it took me a while to adjust to the fact that I couldn't say terribly filthy things."
Drug and Alcohol Content
After a particularly trying day with his mother, Andy drinks heavily in the hotel. "If you're going to be drinking all that alcohol," Joyce tells him, "you should really hydrate." Andy blows up and Joyce leaves the room … heading to a bar, where she downs what appear to be martinis, and getting pretty impaired herself. Wine, beer and cocktails make appearances on other occasions too.
Other Negative Elements
Mom and son treat each other harshly at times. (But when Andy gets particularly out of line, Joyce calls him on it: You don't have to like me, she says, but I'm your mother and "you will treat me with respect.") A friend of Joyce's says she wasn't particularly sad when her husband died. People mention defecation. Joyce gambles all night when she and Andy stay in Las Vegas—quitting after she's $60 ahead.
Cross-country treks never seem to go without a hitch or two, and the same could be said of The Guilt Trip itself. The movie smacks several potholes when it comes to language. It swerves dangerously in its graphic sexual discussions. The tone and tenor of Andy's relationship with his mom can make you feel a little carsick.
And yet The Guilt Trip ends with its tires sinking into the soft sand of the Pacific Coast. And that desirous destination is a rekindling of a loving relationship between mother and son, and a renewed understanding that there's a big ol' world out there to explore.
I've been on a handful of vacations with my own parents—folks whom I not only love and respect, but really enjoy hanging out with. Sure, there are times when I might roll my eyes at my father's penchant for singing in the morning or grow a little exasperated by my mother's meticulous habits. But I know there are things that drive them a little crazy about me, too. And at the end of the day (or, more fairly, at the end of the vacay), I'm struck by what fun we've had together—and how much our little ticks and oddities make us all curiously more lovable, not less.
That's something this film gets right.
But it still doesn't put it in harmless guilty pleasure territory.