If you know the title, you know the painfully unfunny movie with this dull slog across America that Barbara Streisand inexplicably selected for her first lead role in 16 years. Seth Rogen plays chemist-turned-cleaning product inventor Andy Brewster, who never returns his mother’s endless calls or responds to her smothering questions but nevertheless impulsively invites her to come with him on a cross-country sales trip in a rental car (she says the SUV is too expensive, even with the coupon she fishes out of her purse).
The inevitable irritations, revelations, accusations, and reconciliations occur, and through it all, Rogen and Streisand almost never change expression. There’s a reason Rogen’s best work in film has been providing voices for animated characters (“Paul” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”). He only has two looks, a squinchy pained look and a dull confused look. Streisand is always an appealing screen presence, but Joyce, her character here, is such a stereotype of a New Jersey Jewish mother that she is stuck in a rut between cutesy-but-annoying and annoying-but-cutesy. Annoying wins.
Joyce is, of course, the queen over the over-share. Which must make Andy the champ at the under-share, holding on to all of the details of his life as though allowing his mother to know anything about him might just regrow the umbilical cord.
Much of the intended humor of the story comes from the various ways that Joyce embarrasses Andy by inquiring too deeply into his life, telling him too much about hers (she confesses that he was named after the love of her life, her first boyfriend who did not love her the way she loved him), and infantilizing him by clucking over him as though he was a toddler, buying him underwear and licking her palm to smooth down his hair before an important meeting. This causes him to act like a petulant teenager, rolling his eyes, shutting her out, and letting her know that he can barely tolerate having her around.
Things that are supposed to be funny, but aren’t: A stripper fixes their car. Joyce brings along the Oprah-endorsed audiobook Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenidies, read by Kristoffer Tabori, about a character with both male and female sexual characteristics. Joyce takes on a challenge to eat a four-pound steak dinner. Joyce picks up a hitch-hiker. Joyce gets drunk and talks to a lot of men in a bar. Joyce is constantly snacking. Andy is embarrassed. Andy feels smothered.
Things that are supposed to be touching, but aren’t: Joyce schools Andy about treating her with respect. Andy begins to appreciate her, especially when he takes her advice and it (highly improbably) works. Also the ending, but I don’t want to give that away to those who still want to see it.
The movie also wastes the talents of top-notch actors like Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, and Adam Scott, suggesting that there might be some deleted scenes somewhere. It’s fair to assume they are better than what stayed in.
Parents should know that this film includes strippers and some humorous but crude sexual references, drinking and drunkenness, brief scuffle with punches, and some strong language (one f-word, several s-words).
Family discussion: Did the confrontation in the hotel make you see Joyce differently? Why do adults sometimes have trouble talking to their parents? Talk to your family about some of their road trips.
If you like this, try: “Funny Girl” and “What’s Up, Doc?”