The buddy comedy road trip aspect of “The Guilt Trip” may seem very familiar, especially if you’ve seen “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and its unofficial remake, “Due Date.” The mother and son bonding part of the movie, however, is not so recognizable. There are plenty of films involving the relationship between man and mother, but they’re typically far more dysfunctional and Oedipal than this sweet and relatable story starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Just take a look at the following examples to understand why it’s so refreshing to see a realistic -- albeit still very awkward -- movie about a mother and son.
Albert Brooks’s mid-90s dramedy is actually the closest thing there is to “The Guilt Trip.” Just like the newer movie, “Mother” stars a celebrated Jewish screenwriter/actor (Brooks) as the son and a somewhat retired Hollywood legend (Debbie Reynolds) as the mom. Much of their bonding has to do with his problems with women. There is no cross-country drive here, just the guy moving back home and arguments about food and her candidness with strangers and his constant inappropriate sexual jokes about their relationship.
‘Spanking the Monkey’ (1994)
This feature debut of David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) doesn’t merely make jokes out of the Oedipus complex, it goes all the way with its son and mother (Jeremy Davies and Alberta Johnson) by having them go all the way. The tense circumstances involve a summer vacation, an out of town father and a young man who has troubles with the opposite sex obviously stemming from his maternal upbringing. It’s disturbing, but it’s also great drama.
‘Back to the Future’ (1985)
A lighter take on Sophocles, this time travel classic brilliantly has its Oedipus, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), go back thirty years and meet Jocasta, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), as a young woman. While he never comes close to killing his own father (Crispin Glover), he does nearly eradicate his own existence by way of his presence and actions in the past.
Alfred Hitchcock was the master of depicting unhealthy mother and son relationships, and film scholars have written plenty academic papers addressing the overbearing matriarchs of “Notorious,” “North by Northwest,” “The Birds” and others. Of course, no film of his, nor any other director's, has quite so messed up a mother issue as “Psycho” does, with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) dressing up as, killing for and talking to the dead remains of his mom. While barely even a character, Mrs. Bates is the epitome of possessive mothers, on multiple levels.
'Throw Momma From the Train' (1987)
Inspired by "Strangers on a Train," this comedy follows Hitchcock's lead by offering one of the greatest overbearing momma's in film. Many think Anne Ramsey was put on Earth to play another major mother, Mama Fratelli from "The Goonies," but she was really made to play opposite Danny DeVito (who also directed the film) here. Rogen and Streisand have terrific chemistry in "The Guilt Trip," but it's still nothing compared to Ramsey and her fat and stupid little “pigeon,” Owen. Sure, we wouldn’t want to live with her, but why would anyone want to throw her from a train?
‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962 and 2004)
The original, Frankenheimer-directed version of “The Manchurian Candidate” is near-Hitchcockian as well, mostly thanks to the evil, domineering matriarch played by Angela Lansbury. Though she doesn’t have much on the spirit of Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin is at least the greatest metaphoric representation of a controlling mother. She’s even got her Raymond (Laurence Harvey) brainwashed for her red agenda. The remake is worth acknowledging as well, though even the great Meryl Streep couldn’t come close to Lansbury’s original.
In this deeply personal documentary from Jonathan Caouette, the filmmaker chronicles his and his mother’s lives while also presenting their current relationship. The true drama at the film’s center is the fact that the mother, Renee, is mentally ill, diagnosed with acute bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, thanks to electroshock treatment she received as a teenager. He was raised by her parents, yet by the time of this cinematic memoir they’re roommates. Just recently, Caouette released a sequel/companion called “Walk Away Renee,” which updates us on their relationship and story.
‘Goodbye Lenin!’ (2003)
Another movie from the same year involves a son similarly living to take care of his mom. This one, however, is fiction. The wonderfully clever premise has a young man (Daniel Bruhl) attempting to fool his bedridden mother (Katrin Saß) into thinking she’s still living in socialist East Germany, despite the fact that the Berlin Wall came down recently while she was in a coma. Believing she’ll have another attack and die if given an enormous shock, the son does everything he can do to recreate the immediately changed world as she knew it.
‘Some Mother’s Son’ (1996)
A heartbreaking true story of the 1981 prison hunger strike in Northern Ireland, this directorial debut of Terry George has the sons on the side of needing help. But do their mothers, the main mums portrayed by Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan, benefit their children by supporting their force feeding or by supporting their cause and just watching them waste away with dignity? The decision changed the histories of many IRA prisoners, and the dramatic weight of the choosing resulted in this powerful film.
‘Little Man Tate’ (1991)
Another tough decision comes to the mother of an extraordinary genius. Does she let him go off and fulfill his bright potential or does she encourage him to just be a kid? Jodie Foster directed and stars in this forgotten drama, which doesn’t feature a great deal of chemistry between mother (Foster) and son (Adam Hann-Byrd), appropriately so.
‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
This movie shows an intelligent mother (Sally Field) and simple-minded mama’s boy son (Tom Hanks), who finds unique ways to make up for his lack of a high IQ. While Jenny is Forrest’s true love, Mrs. Gump is his greatest, an influence of manners and worldview, notably through sound bites such as “life is like a box of chocolates...”
‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (2011)
Wondering what you might possibly do to cause your son to be a terrible person is one of the greatest fears of a mother, and this twisted, cerebral drama deals with that fear better than any other film before. Much of the story is in the head of the mother (Tilda Swinton) as she retrospectively tries to remember where she went wrong in raising the titular son (Ezra Miller) after he goes on a killing spree at home and school.
‘All About My Mother’ (1999)
Pedro Almodovar’s modern classic melodrama may seem like it’s a mother and son movie where only one is living, but there’s good reason to believe that most of the story is in the imagination of the boy (Eloy Azarin), written as a tale of what he pretends would happen if he were to die. Still, what we see onscreen is what we get: an imagined story of a mother grieving for her dead son and reconciling with the transvestite father he didn’t know about (and vice versa).
‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)
The original “Terminator” is also a story about a mother and a son, even if the latter isn’t born yet and initially hasn’t even been conceived. For both of James Cameron’s installments, the primary premise is of a mother needing to protect her boy from killer robots from the future in order that he one day fight those very robots in the future. The sequel is obviously a greater literal mother and son story, though, thanks to Linda Hamilton being the most badass mama ever to grace the big screen -- she’s the one and only MILNPO (mother I’d like to never piss off) -- and an actual living boy (Edward Furlong) to keep alive.
The matriarch of this Korean film is another MILNPO. Like a cross between the moms of ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘Forrest Gump,’ Kim Hye-ja plays a woman who must find a true murderer whose crimes have been pinned on her simpleton son (Won Bis). What unfolds is what could be understood as the path of any mother who loves her son, that strength and drive to protect and avenge and forever coddle and care for.