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Rogen’s Comedy Gold; Kerouac Tamed; Sad ‘Amour’: Review

'The Guilt Trip'
Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as Joyce and Andrew Brewster in "The Guilt Trip." Joyce is a New Jersey widow who has raised her son on her own, and Andy a schlubby chemist who’s developed a cleaning product he’s trying to pitch to big-box stores. They go on a road trip together. Photographer: Sam Emerson/2012 Paramount Pictures via Bloomberg

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen look nothing alike, have different comedy styles pitched to different generations and, when they’re sitting in a car together, seem to inhabit separate worlds.

In other words, they’re entirely believable as a mother and son. In “The Guilt Trip” they play Joyce Brewster, a New Jersey widow who has raised her son on her own, and Andy Brewster, a schlubby chemist who’s developed a cleaning product he’s trying to pitch to big-box stores.

So, not a hysterical premise. But once the screenwriter, Dan Fogelman, gets them into that car together on a road trip to meet with potential backers, the actors begin to have fun, getting on each other’s nerves as they share a series of mild adventures (a snowstorm, a barroom fight, a meat-eating contest).

The irritations, the embarrassment and the boredom will look familiar to anyone who’s traveled after adolescence with a parent. But Fogelman’s script is surprisingly gentle and sweet. (The title is more overstated than the picture itself.)

It has no gross-out jokes. Fogelman wrote it with his own late mother, also named Joyce, in mind. An end credit dedicates the film to her memory.

Breathing Room

Though the car is a compact, the two stars give each other room and their restraint brings a big payoff in emotional richness. There’s no goo. This is a very satisfying movie.

It has funny moments, but not sequences that build to a comic crescendo. Streisand and Rogen don’t exactly hold back, but they’re relaxed and they never beg for laughs. Perhaps as a result, they don’t develop into a crack comedy team in the Burns-and-Allen sense -- until the final credits.

At that point director Anne Fletcher drops in a series of outtakes. You can see why they weren’t used: The movie builds its rhythm carefully and they’re exactly the kind of devouring-mother-castrated-son routines that would have thrown it out of whack. But they’re hilarious.

“The Guilt Trip,” from Paramount, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ****

Kerouac Undone

Where’s the bliss? “On the Road” commits the offense that was most anathema to Jack Kerouac: It tries too hard. If there’s a motion-picture equivalent to the headlong, speed-inflected rhythms of Kerouac’s 1957 novel, surely it’s not this long, boring succession of pristinely art-directed shots.

The actors try hard to look as hip as the legends they’re playing. Among them are two Englishmen, Sam Riley and Tom Sturridge, as well as Garrett Hedlund and a very amusing Viggo Mortensen as the characters based, respectively, on Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs.

Jose Rivera, the screenwriter, and Walter Salles, the director, seek to demythologize these figures, which is what they did to Che Guevara in their previous collaboration, “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

They don’t glamorize the drugs or the endless cigarettes or Cassady’s rather predatory sexuality. They’ve stripped Kerouac, who was possibly the most conscious mythmaker since Virgil, of his transcendence.

And what’s “On the Road” without transcendence? A plotless tale of boozing speed freaks in period cars. The film doesn’t hint at revelation. It doesn’t even look like fun.

“On the Road,” from IFC Films, opens Friday in New York. Rating: **

Truest Love

Michael Haneke’s “Amour” watches an elderly Parisian (Jean-Louis Trintignant) try, with increasing desperation, to care for his dying wife (Emmanuelle Riva). In October it played at the New York Film Festival, after winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

It’s gorgeously shot, with impeccable performances, and I was impressed yet ambivalent: The film is severe and very graphic. (To read my review from the New York Film Festival screening, click here.)

But in the months since I saw it, I haven’t stopped thinking about it -- and it’s a beautiful memory, not a bad one. “Amour” earns its title: It’s as much about love as it is about death. I’m convinced of its greatness.

“Amour” is playing in New York and L.A. Rating: *****


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Craig Seligman is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on restaurants and Patrick Cole on philanthropy.

To contact the writer of this column: Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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