By Will Mann
Few comedic players seem to have dominated and redefined the comedy game in recent years as much as the group I’m going to call the “Bro Pack” (because, according to Wikipedia, the name “Frat Pack” was already taken). The Bro Pack, as I define them, consists of actors like Seth Rogen (as well as his writing/producing partner Evan Goldberg), Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Craig Robinson, as well as actors associated with the closely-aligned Judd Apatow productions, such as Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne, and Jason Segel. (Rogen, Franco, and Segel all got their start on the Apatow-produced/ one of my favorite TV shows, Freaks & Geeks.) Together, they have made a string of hits: the Apatow-produced The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek (one of my favorite movies of the past few years), and This is 40, along with the Rogen/Goldberg produced Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is the End, Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and the controversial, banned-from-theaters The Interview.
Why mention all this? Because it demonstrates that these guys are at a point in their careers where they are truly fearless. It takes true cojones to make a movie where you play yourselves during the middle of the apocalypse, or to make a movie so provocative it almost starts a war with North Korea. And while for me, these movies can be a little hit-or-miss (I think This Is the End is one of the funniest movies of the past 20 years, but I’d be lying if I said that I thought either Superbad or Pineapple Express deserved acclaim or cult-status), the fact of the matter is that there are very few people in Hollywood who feel as comfortable crossing the line as frequently and with such hilarious zeal as these guys do.
That obsession with creating new, strange, and different kinds of comedies could not be more prominent than in the new CGI-animated, hard-R-rated adult comedy, Sausage Party, which was written and produced by Rogen and Goldberg. The premise is that food, as we know, buy, and consume it, is actually alive. Moreover, during their time in the grocery story, they construct a narrative about how, when people purchase them, they are actually going to a heaven-like paradise called “the Great Beyond.” (The opening song of the film, also entitled “The Great Beyond,” details the beliefs of the grocery store products. Moreover, the song was written by Alan Menken, famous for writing the songs for such Disney hits as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Hunchback of Norte Dame, which is in keeping with the overall satire of Disney on display throughout the film.)
The film focuses on Frank (Rogen), a hot-dog, and his affianced love-interest Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig), a hot-dog bun. When they and the other of their respective kind are picked up by a woman buying them, they believe salvation is imminent. But when a bottle of honey mustard (Danny McBride) tells them that the “Great Beyond” is not what they’ve been told, then commits suicide off the shopping cart, the cart crashes and Frank and Brenda leave their packages and set off on a journey across the grocery store. A douche (Nick Kroll) who was injured in the shopping cart crash swears revenge against Frank. Meanwhile, back at the customer’s house, Frank and Brenda’s fellow food friends discover the truth about what awaits them, and one of the other hot-dogs, Barry (Michael Cera) makes a daring escape. In so doing, he ends up at the house of a stoner (James Franco) whose experimentation with bath salts gives Barry an idea as to how to save his friends. Back at the grocery store, Frank and Brenda encounter characters like a bagel (Edward Norton) who is stereotypically Jewish, a lavash (David Krumholtz) who is stereotypically Middle Eastern, and Teresa del Taco (Selma Hayek), a taco with the hots for Brenda. As Frank learns more and more of the truth about what really awaits them in the “Great Beyond,” he tries to rally the grocery store together against the humans once and for all.
Sausage Party is, without a doubt, a laugh riot, as well as one of the most inventive and silly comedies of the year. The premise is really imaginative, but it’s what they do with that premise that emphasizes just how irreverent it’s trying to be. With ethnic jokes and scatological references that one would easily find in an episode of South Park or Family Guy, the movie definitely wears its “non-PC” badge with honor. But the movie has a surprising heart to it, and despite the ridiculous circumstances the characters find themselves in, whether it’s being chased by a jacked-up douche that drinks his victims to grow stronger or encountering zombie-corn in a pile of human feces (yes, both of these things are ACTUALLY in this movie), you find yourself rooting for them. The movie, despite how balls-to-the-wall insane it is, always keeps your attention.
There’s a joke close to midway through the movie, and it’s so small you might have missed it, but it tells you everything you need to know about Sausage Party. A bumper-sticker on the back of the druggie’s car says “DIXAR.” It’s obviously a riff on Pixar, but more importantly, it tells you what exactly this film is satirizing. For years, Pixar has capitalized on the “what-if” scenarios in asking what the inner lives of toys, bugs, fish, cars, rats, robots, and emotions themselves are like throughout their acclaimed 20+-year-run of movies. Sausage Party, in contrast, takes this concept to its hyperbolic extreme, pointing out how ridiculous it is to personify inanimate objects, as well as the inherent cultural baggage this process would come with if it were applied to EVERY object we interact with on a daily basis.
And obviously, the other major point of satire is religion. While no religious satire film has come close to the granddaddy of them all, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, I at least appreciate that they wanted this goofy “food-comes-to-life” movie to have a little bit more depth than its name and premise would necessarily imply.
And while this movie is a helluva lot of fun, I’m surprised to say it wasn’t as funny as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really funny, but upon retrospection I realized I might’ve laughed harder and more frequently during Deadpool. The jokes rely a lot more on puns than I was expecting, which is fine, but I also wish the writers had also given us something more substantial and intellectual in terms of wordplay. Moreover, despite the fact that Disney/Pixar would never in a million years include a hygienic device for women in one of their movies, the character of Douche’s overall role in the film as both villain and someone who gets more and more physically powerful as the plot progresses seems like something straight out of the type of Disney/Pixar movie Sausage Party is trying to mock. I just feel like I’ve seen that exact character before, just in a different form. A villain that was more comedic and less cliché would’ve helped to solve this issue.
Despite this, Sausage Party is fun, irreverent, funny, inventive, silly, weird, thought-provoking, satirical, strange, and hilarious. It seems destined to reach the heights of movies like Fritz the Cat, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and Team America: World Police as one of the funniest R-rated animated films of all time, as well as one that pushed the envelope in a similar way to what those films did. If you’ve liked the previous output of the Bro Pack at all, do yourself a favor and check out Sausage Party, one of the most ridiculous, but also one of the best, films of the summer.