THE GUILT TRIP
Hitting the road... with Mom
There may be no two people on earth more capable of pushing each other's buttons than a grown-up son and his mother-- but in THE GUILT TRIP a mother and son end up pushing all the right buttons to come closer in the midst of a wild and crazy trip that threatens to drive them both crazy.
The film's comically moving journey began with a real-life road trip, when screenwriter Dan Fogelman took his mom on an marathon two-week escapade across the U.S., one that was as full of revelations and surprises as it was rife with typical family love and friction. It was an experiment that jibed with a movie idea that had been cooking in Fogelman's mind for a long time.
"I've always been intrigued by mother-son relationships," says Fogelman. "And I wanted to write something about that moment in your life -- which sometimes doesn't come until later in life -- where you really see your parents for the first time as actual human beings; when you suddenly say 'Wow, this is not just my mom, but a person with a whole life and relationships and past loves that existed long before I ever existed' and that transforms how you react to each other."
He continues: "So I called up my mom and said 'Hey, I'm going to pick you up; would you like to go on a cross-country trip with me?' I really had no idea what might happen if a mother and son were actually locked in a car for several days together. But it was an incredible trip and pretty much everything that happens in the movie came from those two weeks with my mom."
Fogelman was prepared for anything on his experimental escape with his mother, but he had an even better time than he imagined. "Some of my friends said to me, 'what are you doing, how can you possibly drive cross country with your mother?' And of course, we had our moments, but we also have a very fun, cool relationship," he notes. "As soon as we took off, I started writing down everything that happened to us verbatim - from getting stuck in an Arkansas snowstorm to mom attempting to eat a 72-ounce piece of meat at a Texas steak house."
From these personal experiences were born the characters of Andy and Joyce Brewster, a son and mother who have each reached a kind of fork in their road when they set out on their trip together. Andy might have too much going on in his life and Joyce not enough, but they are each in need of broader horizons . . . they just can't imagine finding that in their often exasperating relationship, until they do.
"Andy's at a crossroads in his career, faced with a do-or-die proposition of trying to sell this device he's invented and Joyce has been leading a kind of solitary life," notes Fogelman. "When Andy hears a story about a guy his mom once loved before she was married, he decides to track him down, and that's what leads him to bring his mother across country with him, hoping to reunite her with this love of her life. But she thinks her son just wants to spend time with her, which of course warms a mother's heart."
This duo might have mixed-up agendas, but ultimately Andy and Joyce want the same thing: to open up their worlds, which in turn, allows them to see each other in ways they never have before. It was this mix of the acutely funny with moving questions about what family bonds mean that drew director Anne Fletcher - who was a sought-after choreographer when she cut her teeth directing the hit dance drama STEP UP, then went on to conquer the modern romantic comedy with 27 DRESSES and THE PROPOSAL. With THE GUILT TRIP, she saw a chance to combine everything she loves in movies: comedy, fluidity and heart.
"I completely, personally identified with this story 100 percent," Fletcher recalls. "I felt like it was a picture of my relationship with my mom and also my brother's relationship with my mom. I immediately thought, 'I have to tell this story as a love letter to all moms.' We snipe at them, we're short with them and yet they're still always there for us because they love us more than anything -- and they know no matter how rude we can get sometimes, that we love them."
At the time, the idea of Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand taking the lead roles was just that: a madcap fantasy that seemed highly unlikely to come to fruition. But Fletcher could see it no other way and committed herself to making it happen.
"From the first time I read the script, it was Seth and Barbra for me," she explains. "I just knew they would connect in the right way to bring this story to life. It took a lot of time and meetings to work it all out, but it was everything to me because that was literally how I saw the movie. There were no alternatives."
Fletcher set out with a team of veteran comedy producers -- SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE creator/producer/maestro Lorne Michaels and his partner John Goldwyn, along with Seth Rogen's long-time partner Evan Goldberg -- to see if what sounded just about impossible could actually be achieved.
Michaels was taken right away with Fogelman's screenplay. "I love that there is an instant familiarity with these two characters. I love how the story reflects how mothers irritate sons and sons irritate mothers but at the same time, that you really feel their connection to each other," he says. "John Goldwyn was with me on it from the beginning and brought a really great perspective to getting the script right."
Goldwyn adds: "The thing that impressed me most about the script was how truly authentic it was - you could really sense that Dan was writing from real life and his own relationship with his mother. There was also something very fresh about it, because the mother-son relationship has never really been explored in quite this way. Still, we understood from the start that we would to find just the right balance between comedy and emotion in the story, and then we needed the perfect casting and the dead-on right director, which ultimately is what happened."
Indeed, Goldwyn credits Anne Fletcher's insistent loyalty to the film with helping the team to shepherd the film to fruition. "She always spoke so eloquently about this movie from her heart," he explains. "Obviously, she had just done two big, crowd-pleasing hit movies with STEP UP and THE PROPOSAL but this would be a very different kind of challenge. I was sure when I met her that she had what it would take to tackle this story, because in her gut, she was already devoted to staying with her vision of this story no matter what. And I think ultimately, Barbra Streisand came on board in part because of Anne, and because she was excited to work with one of a few truly commercial women directors. Barbra is a great supporter of women and I think she enjoyed that about Anne, and also I think she enjoyed that Anne is someone who calls it like she sees it. She doesn't swaddle her words in velvet - she's very direct and I think Barbra liked in a woman director."
Like the rest of the team, Michaels couldn't help but personally relate to the story. "It makes you think reflexively back to those times coming home to visit when you just move into your old room because it feels both kind of wasteful and weird to stay at a hotel . . . and the bed is smaller than you remember . . . and it's hard not to become 14 again in that moment. But what is interesting about Andy is that he has that experience - and then he comes to a realization that the roles have changed. He realizes that his mother's life was always centered around him but now he wants to take care of her because she gave him the chance to only think about himself for all those years growing up."
He continues: "Dan Fogelman had written this screenplay after taking a trip with his own mother, whose dream it was to have Barbra Streisand play her if there was ever a movie. So it was a lot of fun to get the script to a point where you had Barbra and Seth in a room reading together and you could see that there was a real chemistry and magic there. I never do a comedy without a full read through because that's what we do at SNL. I have to hear it play to know it works - and when the two of them were brought together, it really worked."
Goldberg was also enamored by Fogelman's story and having worked with Rogen for so long could instantly envision him as Andy. "The script was extremely surprising to me," he recalls. "I am pretty pessimistic when I start reading scripts, but I can pretty confidently say this was the best script I've been handed in my life. The first time I read it, I even cried a little bit at one point. And then it kind of blew my mind."
He adds: "As things got underway, it just seemed so natural to put Seth and Barbra Streisand together. The best part is that in these roles, Seth is the straight man and Barbra the comedic star. And while some people may come to see THE GUILT TRIP for Seth and others for Barbra, I think both will be amused to find they are just as intrigued by the person they didn't come to see. It's kind of the ultimate mother-son comedy -- I can't wait to take my mom to see this movie."
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