Editor’s Notes: Sausage Party is currently out in wide theatrical release.
The prospects of a new film from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are always so exciting because of just how crazily inventive they permit themselves to be. These guys don’t play anything safe – and I’m not just referring to their propensity for comic vulgarity. It’s the go-for-broke conceptual lunacy that elevates a Rogen/Goldberg screenplay above virtually any of their modern raunchy comedy peers…including even their mentor, Judd Apatow. As the modern American cinematic paradigm seems ever-shifting towards sameness, a Matrix-like environment of sequels, adaptations, and reboots, these guys understand that breaking the rules and abandoning the safety net are the keys to busting the mold. For them, there is no spoon.
. . . all of the greatness is either shoved up front or dumped in an onslaught towards the end, leaving this glaring midsection that sort of rests on its laurels.
What’s most interesting about Sausage Party, Rogen and Goldberg’s latest high-concept palooza, is that all of those sparkling superlatives still apply even as the film occasionally flounders and never quite reaches peak genius. I admired so much of it without ever falling in love…and eventually I admired so intensely that I nearly fell in love. But all of the greatness is either shoved up front or dumped in an onslaught towards the end, leaving this glaring midsection that sort of rests on its laurels. That’s a rarity for these guys, and indeed, this film’s laurels are far more interesting than virtually any other summer tentpole’s. And yet, for slightly more than half the film’s efficient 90-minute running time, the script spins its wheels, leaning so heavily on its concept that it almost boxes itself inside.
One might expect an animated comedy about talking foodstuffs to at least indulge in a few deliberately corny puns, but Sausage Party is basically one pun drawn out over an hour-and-a-half period, playing on endless variations of the idea that “talking food is goofy!” It’s an effect that wears thin early but keeps on going to the bitter end. Rogen and Goldberg are as good as anyone at using high concepts as an explosive springboard onto bigger, grander themes and ideas, but this time they seem so enamored with the surface idea that it takes an inordinately long time to get to the topper. Maybe that’s because their authorship is shared this time around – the screenplay is co-written with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, and the directors are animation veterans Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon – or maybe it’s just that the nuts-and-bolts material isn’t especially hilarious.
Eventually the narrative exposes its truly transgressive underbelly on a path towards a spectacularly meta conclusion, a final act that shows just how brilliant the movie could’ve been had it just gotten there sooner.
Make no mistake: there are sporadic moments of absolute inspiration in this stupendously vulgar story of grocery store catharsis, starting with the idea that there could be such a thing as “grocery store catharsis.” In the film’s universe, the sundry products on the supermarket shelves aspire to be selected by “The Gods” and taken to “The Great Beyond,” where they will fulfill their destiny. The crude realization is that the “Gods” are merely gluttonous humans who plan to torture and murder these foods with a savage onslaught of cutlery and incisors. Frank (voiced by Rogen) breaks free from his packaging as his fellow hot dogs are hauled off to the Not-So-Great-Beyond and embarks on a journey to both discover the nature of his existence and reconcile with his forever love, Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig), who is, aptly, a bun.
The adventure is sufficiently madcap, fusing the lawless comedic zeal of Rogen and Goldberg with the boundless possibilities of an animated universe, which would seem a match made in heaven. There’s also a sneaky exploration of racial and gender relations as these foods are assigned according to their ethnic origins and exploited for their obvious anatomical properties. Yet these intriguing ideas only reach takeoff velocity as the story barrels toward its end, after an extended second act that is content to repeat variations on the same basic “cursing cartoons” framework. The ideas are solid, but the comic execution is too repetitive to ever reach a sublime insanity similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s reigning masterwork, This Is the End. Eventually the narrative exposes its truly transgressive underbelly on a path towards a spectacularly meta conclusion, a final act that shows just how brilliant the movie could’ve been had it just gotten there sooner. As it is, Sausage Party is always fun and occasionally wonderful, a cut above the standard trip to the supermarket…and a cut above the average summer movie.
As it is, Sausage Party is always fun and occasionally wonderful, a cut above the standard trip to the supermarket…and a cut above the average summer movie.