"SURPRISES ARE foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable," said Jane Austen.
Well, I always hate to disagree with the usually astute Miss Austen, but sometimes surprises provide a lot of pleasure and no inconvenience at all.
- TAKE, FOR instance, the new Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen comedy, The Guilt Trip. Box office and reviews have been middling. But -- surprise! -- the movie turns out to be not nearly as bad as the worst reviews proclaim, or the trailers indicate. Indeed, this modest (and modestly budgeted) movie is considerably more charming than the most deadly reviews insist.
There's nothing groundbreaking here. This is a minor film, in the manner of some past Streisand comedies, such as For Pete's Sake or The Main Event. Nobody's going to begin a tribute reel to Streisand with anything from The Guilt Trip. But a grand film was not in the grand design. Barbra knew it. Her co-star Seth Rogen (to whom I am usually indifferent) knew it, and director Anne Fletcher knew it. This is cozy cinematic comfort food; a mother-son road trip in which bridges are mended and a few built along the way.
The mistake of The Guilt Trip is not so much anything in the film itself, but rather the timing of its release. Christmas season, with its ultra-big, ultra-violent, ultra-unrealistic "blockbusters" was no time in which to shoehorn this small offering. It screams for a Mother's Day release. Did director Fletcher (or Barbra) or Paramount Pictures decide that was too obvious? If so, too bad. Because what is being lost on weary end-of-the-year audiences is an appealing Mr. Rogen, and a truly charming, relaxed, and humorous Miss Streisand. The script doesn't knock you out, the visuals are pedestrian (many critics have complained about the obvious "green screen" used behind Seth and Barbra as they supposedly travel the country.) But this matters very little. In fact, I found the old-fashioned look of it to be rather soothing, in face of relentless CGI and spectacle.
The Guilt Trip is really all about the chemistry between Barbra and Seth. Yeah, I know -- it seems like it couldn't possibly work, but it does. And it does so without anything audiences might have come to expect of either star. Rogen doesn't indulge his wacky gross-out side, and Streisand delivers a far finer-grained performance than in the hugely popular Meet the Fockers movie. What accounts for her unstrained demeanor I cannot say. She is certainly always better when she doesn't burden herself with producing or directing chores. This is also Barbra's first starring appearance onscreen since 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces. Maybe she was energized simply by being back in saddle, so to speak. Or maybe Anne Fletcher is a really good director, who somehow connected with Streisand. (A task, even now, that is not always easy.)
In any case, The Guilt Trip contains more poignancy than the trailers indicate -- it's not an empty fall-down-laughing yuk-fest. I have a feeling this will age well, look better a bit down the road than it does now.
The world didn't come to end. The shopping (and returning) are over. Want to get your mind off the "fiscal cliff" and the idiots in Washington, D.C.? Go see The Guilt Trip. It might really be a guilty pleasure. But go ahead, darlings, enjoy -- as any good Jewish mama would say.
- P.S. Speaking of aging well, if The Guilt Trip is a potent advertisement for Barbra being physically up to the demands of Gypsy which the star still insists she will remake. Whether through genetics, cosmetics or the availability of better-than-ever "procedures" Streisand, now 70, looks strikingly fresh and 50-ish. With a slight adjustment to the camera lens, she could certainly pass for the 40-ish Mama Rose, mother of two young children, in the first half of Gypsy. Her age -- like Tom Cruise's height for Jack Reacher -- has been endlessly criticized by naysayers, or haters, as they call them these days. As if Mama Rose was a role ever intended for a spring chicken?
Now more than ever, I think Streisand will make "Gypsy" happen.
- THE SOON-upon-us 2013 looks to be as busy a year for the indefatigable Liza Minnelli as 2012 was. Just a few things on Liza's plate:
To celebrate Cabaret's 40th anniversary (and the new Blu-Ray restoration of her Oscar-winning movie) Liza will appear with cast members Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson and Michael York at New York's Ziegfeld Theater on January 31, for a special screening of Cabaret and a Q&A conducted by (who else?) Robert Osborne, the Turner Classic Movies maestro.
Liza and pal Alan Cumming will perform at Manhattan's Town Hall on March 13th, the day after Liza's 67th birthday.
She will be on the second-season premiere episode of The Kathy Griffin Show, an episode of NBC's Smash (she'll appear as herself and sing a new Scott Wittman/Marc Shaiman composition) and there will be a number of appearances on the newly revived Arrested Development.
And of course, concerts, concerts, concerts. Liza played five countries last year. At the very least she'll go for six in 2013.
Boy, nobody ever meant anything more than Liza Minnelli, when she changed the lyrics to Cabaret. She has made sure she did not "go like Elsie." Happy New Year, Liza. You are an artist, a survivor and a good girl.