Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sausage Party

Sausage Party, the first R-rated CG animated movie, has been a passion project for actor Seth Rogen and his friends for the past eight years. They somehow convinced a studio to finance their twisted vision, and the resulting film may be one of the most obscene mainstream comedies ever made. But beneath the vulgar language and orgies of CG food characters having graphic on-screen sex, I was surprised to find that the film has an actual message to it. I can't think of a mainstream studio film from the past decade that discusses religion quite like this one does, and considering how everyone tends to walk on eggshells about that topic in our country right now, it's interesting to see a movie — this movie, of all movies — so willing to address it head-on.

Sausage Party
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Salma Hayek, Nick Kroll

Spoilers ahead.

The food is alive inside Shopwell's supermarket, and as the film (and the store) opens, we see a wonderful rendition of a "Be Our Guest"-esque musical number that establishes the shared beliefs of the foods: that one day they'll be taken by the gods (aka humans) to "The Great Beyond," a glorious place outside the store where all their dreams come true. A sausage named Frank (Rogen) and a hot dog bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig) have been in packages next to each other on the shelf for a while, and they yearn to be chosen together during a Fourth of July sale so they can have sex, because that's what they think happens in the Great Beyond. 

After a terrific Saving Private Ryan parody involving a cart crash and fallen items wandering dazed across the floor of an aisle, Frank and Brenda team with a nervous bagel (Edward Norton doing his best Woody Allen impression), a lavash (David Krumholtz) who talks about the 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil he'll be given in the next life, and a female taco (Salma Hayek) who harbors feelings for Brenda. They're all on the run from Douche (Nick Kroll), an actual douche with a penchant for steroids and a thirst for revenge. The characterizations are far from subtle, and I can easily see the stereotypes — and there are dozens more I didn't mention — causing some outrage.

Frank soon encounters a bottle of Firewater (Bill Hader, doing a Native American accent) who reveals the horrible truth: the Great Beyond is just a grim hellscape in which humans eat all of the food. Firewater and a small group of friends made up the song to allow all of the food to go to their deaths smiling instead of terrified, but in the intervening years, their message has been slowly twisted (a Nazi contingent of German food recently added a lyric about "exterminating the Juice," for example). It's an obvious but effective parallel to the messages and meanings of religious texts being altered over time, and these kinds of statements are constantly (and sometimes cleverly) layered throughout the film. Eventually, there's a nice message here about how A) atheists don't have to be assholes, and B) we all need to come together despite our differences to overcome common obstacles. But if my audience's reaction was any indication, the most memorable aspect of this movie for most people will be an all-out orgy between food items that crosses pushes the boundaries about as far as they can go.

For me, one of Sausage Party's biggest problems was unexpected: I think it's lacking when it comes to big laugh out loud moments. There are some really fun food puns on display, and a bunch of little jokes and one-liners that earn a smile or a chuckle, but I was really hoping for some huge belly laughs here, and I didn't get nearly as many as I would have liked. Obviously your mileage will vary for all of this, but especially for the comedic aspects...I'm just telling you how it worked for me. I will say that I was expecting a non-stop string of sex jokes, and the movie actually has a lot more on its mind than just crossing the lines of good taste (pun intended, obvs) and subverting what we're used to seeing in CG animation from a studio film. The filthy language and gross-out humor will likely repel the people who have the mentality the movie spends most of its runtime opposing, which lends the whole thing a bit of a "preaching to the choir" vibe, but all things considered, it's a pretty solid piece of summer entertainment.

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