The Guilt Trip writer Dan Fogelman follows an emotional road
BEVERLY HILLS—It sounds like something straight out of the movies, and it is. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman went on a real-life road trip with his mom, Joyce, and then wrote a script called The Guilt Trip about it. Joyce loved Barbra Streisand, so Fogelman got Babs to play the movie version of her.
“My mom led a small life; she’s not the kind of person you usually would write a movie about,” Fogelman told the Georgia Straight in a hotel room. “And Barbra was her absolute hero. She used to watch The Way We Were about once a year, and she would cry at that scene at the end when Katie and Hubbell meet again, when they spot each other out front of the Plaza and they kind of wave at each other. I mean, my mom used to wail this unhealthy, strange wail: high, shrill, and animal. My sister and I used to sneak in to watch her watch that scene because we thought it was so funny to watch her cry like that. She was so touched by the romance and the beauty and the love. I want to make movies that make people feel like that.”
Fogelman says that he’s “not a big crier”, though he cites the James L. Brooks tearjerker Terms of Endearment as his favourite movie of all time, and he says the recent indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wild made him feel like shedding tears. But his admiration for auteur films aside, Fogelman is equally fluent in studio shorthand regarding the emotional checks and balances of his current project, which opens Friday (December 21).
“It’s not a JAP [Jewish American princess] Meet the Fockers,” he says. “The dynamic of being stuck in a car with your mother is a very broad comedic opportunity. But this movie will make you feel something, and more than you expected and not what you expected.”
As the writer behind Tangled and the unusual Ryan Gosling/Steve Carell comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love., he should know. Those were two standout scripts from recent years, and his conviction has paid off so far. “I believe you can sell a movie about feelings,” he continues. “Movies about feelings are what we should all be trying to do. If not, we’re all just chasing box office.”
Consequently, the focus of The Guilt Trip is not as obvious as you might expect. It’s not Due Date; rather, the film has nuanced things to say about the love that exists between parent and child.
“It’s a movie about a mom and a son, and it’s meant to be relatable,” Fogelman explains. “The guilt stereotype is not what you assume it is. It’s actually the reality that you’re always on a hair trigger with your parents; you’re always quicker to snap than you should be, and then you go up to your room and feel like shit about yourself because you treated them too badly. My mom used to always say to me, ‘You know what, Danny? I just wish you would treat me with the same respect you would treat a complete stranger.’ And that would kill me, because she was right…And that’s the real guilt trip.”
Any mom would be gratified to hear her words coming from Babs on the big screen. But in a twist that Fogelman calls “bittersweet”, the real Joyce passed away before Streisand said “yes” to the part. And in true Hollywood style, Fogelman predicts that he’ll do most of his grieving on the red carpet.
“On our last day of shooting, we were in Vegas and I had given Barbra a gift to tell her what it meant to me that she had made this movie, and I felt this kind of overwhelming feeling welling up, like this grief overtaking me that I hadn’t even been able to feel since my mother had died,” he says. “And I’m thinking that tonight, at the premiere, at some point the emotion will overtake me.”