Do I want to start eating dirt?
Perhaps, as an individual who already entertains questions on whether or not I’m morally comfortable (in spite of a true appreciation for) eating meat, I should have more deeply considered whether or not Sausage Party was a film for me. But, as is often the case these days, leading the life so typical for people in this particular generation of having at least one-full time profession and one to three additional fulltime pursuits constituting another full time profession, I knew nothing about this film going into it other than it was animated, about food (sausages to be specific) and the brainchild of Seth Rogen and his cronies. In my mind, a sheltered place to be sure, this meant likely voice-acting incursions from Danny McBrides, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, and Jay Baruchel. Furthermore, the safe confines of my mind intoned, sausage party would surely be what its name proclaimed it to be: a movie about sausages, a party, or a party involving sausages. In my own world, a sausage party is an annual event that happens near the fourth of July in the woods, attended predominantly by males, accompanied by beers, drinking, and shenanigans. All things I can get onboard with, with the begrudging allowance that predominantly male parties can be OK (yes, we’d prefer more females, but we’ll manage).
My mind, prior to entering the theater, soothsaid me sweet nothings like, “get ready to laugh” and “these guys are all right and usually funny, what could go wrong?” Well, not only was there no Jay Baruchel, but my mind was just way off base. Little did I know that Sausage Party would prove to be Rogan and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s most coherent, linear, and stick-to-its-guns film to date. So when the film posited a question in a Toy Story-esque fashion, and sticks to this question in a quasi-serious (albeit filled with excessive swearing and sexual innuendo) way, I am left asking myself what a particular bath salts using druggie asks himself when he learns that food is a collective of cognitive, walking, talking, foul-mouthed entities trying desperately not to be murdered (read: eaten) by us Gods (read: people): do I want to eat dirt forever in the face of this new reality?
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Release Date: August 12, 2016
Sausage Party begins in Shopwell, the quinticential suburban super market: massive, sprawling, and home to many foods and goods. Only, these foods and goods are living sentient beings. Enter, Frank (Seth Rogen), a sausage (the first of many, many, seriously, too many to count food puns), and Brenda Bunson (Kristin Wiig), a hot dog bun, two store-crossed lovers in respective ten and eight-pack packaging, aligned side by side on a display case.
Frank, Brenda, and the rest of Shopwell’s denizens eagerly await the store’s opening so that they can sing on their readiness to be ‘chosen’ by the Gods to be taken to The Great Beyond, a magical land of R&R and copious out-of-package jackrabbit, food on food sex. The foods and goods are all too eager to buy into this altruistic utopian vision. So while we’re dealing with what is perhaps a very simple movie, boiled down to the question “what if food had feelings,” it also takes the time to take shots at societal and sociological issues of greater scale. All good.
Food is waiting to be chosen when Honey Mustard is returned to the store after being mistaken for regular mustard and dispels all that illusion. Or tries to, and in the process set up a series of events that lead Frank, Brenda, Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz), Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), and Teressa del Taco (Salma Hayek) to journey to learn the horrible truth-slash-return to their packaging on the shelf to be chosen again.
And then throw in a protagonist named Douche (Nick Kroll, as an actual douche) who, after finding his efforts to ‘get up in some sweet MILF’ defeated by Honey Mustard, mistakenly blames Frank and friends and acts as his name implies he would. Kroll steals the show in his personification of the penultimate douche. It’s almost masterful.
Meanwhile, in the great beyond, some of Frank and Brenda’s friends have made it home and await their great rewards, only to learn that Honey Mustard was being real as honey mustard can be. The Gods ARE monsters. Let the murder begin. The filmmakers have as much fun with this as they can. In point of fact, this scene (and other iterations of food maiming and death throughout) seem to have been the defacto vehicle for making the movie. Sure there’s an incredible montage of food orgy action near the end, but that’s just the cherry on top of the whipped cream.
One of these friends, Barry (Michael Cera, a shorter, wider sausage) escapes the carnage only to eventually make it back to Shopwell and confirm Frank’s own budding beliefs. Along the way, Barry discovers a bath salts using drug addict (James Franco) and also that humans on bath salts bridge the awareness divide between food and human realities, thus allowing the humans to perceive the foods as they truly are, and interact with them as such. That sets up the final battle scene—and I will not go into details on this front—I’d hate to spoil the food.
Most people in the audience were laughing throughout the movie and a had a lot of fun with the clever puns, dick jokes, and over the top vulgarity. I am loathe to admit I was not one of them. When a car drives by with a bumper sticker that read “DIXAR” I smirked. As I did for a cook book with the imprint “Clam Bake Books.” But the food puns, in of themselves, were not enough to justify the movie or my viewing it. In fact, I found the Dixar dig a bit of an oddity, as it implied some derision towards the Pixar library when clearly clever writing and puns are a good portion of what mke Pixar Pixar. So was this a dig, or a nice nod disguised as the Rogen/Goldberg trademark dick joke? Hard to say, but again, simple aside made me laugh more than most of the movie. Which brings me back to this being the duo’s perhaps most linear, coherent movie to date. This is not an insult. Usually, I think that being outlandish, operating on loosely formed premises driven by copious swearing, phallic references (or drawings) and inexplicable human decision making is what makes their movies work best. But here, while operating on a such a stoner epiphany such as wouldn’t it be f***ed up if food had feelings, and sticking to to this as fervently as they did, almost diminishes the laughs. Not because I really contemplated eating dirt, as does the hapless drug addict who finds himself talking to and emoting with a sausage, but because the story clings so hard to the seriousness of the proposition that it serves no other point than to do so. When a serious story accomplishes this, it’s great art. When a story about a sausage trying to get in a bun does this, it does not capitalize on its laughs.
I would have traded all the food puns which even the writers/characters are admitting are “stretch”es by the end for some real, off the wall zaniness that this team is know for.
There are hints, as the movie is not without laughs: Gum (Scott Underwood), a formless lump of pink bubblegum that is the cheapest appropriation of Stephen Hawking I’ve seen to date. Gum is hilarious. There’s an honest to Gods camea by Meat Loaf as meatloaf singing “I’d do Anything for Love.” That was a nice touch. And then too, the antipathetic scorn of the Shopwell employees in every facet of their duties emphasized by under the breath swearing is delightful and relatable.
But mostly, I was left not contemplating which of the societal issues I felt they’d addressed most relevantly (Israel v. Palestine / Arab states), or our lack of regard for what goes in our mouths (in all senses), or whether or not there’s more to life than what we seem to get, but rather, how I wished this movie had delivered like Superbad, or Knocked Up, or Goon, or This Is the End, or The Night Before, or Neighbors, or Your Highness, or Get Him to the Greek to name a few of some of the others written by, or starring this talented smorgasbord of comedians.