'Sausage Party': SXSW Review
Seth Rogen leads an A-list cast of voice actors playing groceries who don't know what happens once they're taken home from the supermarket.
Sausage Party, an R-rated comedy about food products waiting to be sold at a supermarket, begins unpromisingly, with a musical number so effing gratuitously overstuffed with effed-up f-bomb adjectives — most of them irrelevant to the jokes being made — one fears numbness will set in before anything really funny happens. But then a crude hot dog-meets-bun joke hits its mark, and within moments of the song's end it's clear that this raunchy, raucous comedy — a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg passion project directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan — is going somewhere. The laughs barely let up after that first scene, in fact, in a film that proves to be not just more than a boundary-stretching exercise but one of the funniest arguments for the non-existence of God in some time. (Ricky Gervais and Bill Maher could take a lesson.) Fans of This is the End and similar Rogen & Co. outrages will eat it up.
The pic's conceit is that the contents of this store, from cantaloupes to cans of beans, are sentient beings who start every day in the hopes of being chosen by those shopping-cart-pushing gods who'll carry them out to the heaven-like "Great Beyond." All they have to do is stay fresh and pristine until chosen — that is to say, a packaged weenie like Frank (Rogen) is not able to act on the lust he feels for a shapely bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). If all goes well, they'll be able to consummate their relationship in the afterlife — which nobody here realizes involves being chopped up, cooked and consumed by the gods.
But then a jar of honey mustard is bought by accident and returned to the store after being taken to one of the gods' homes. Shaken by the horrors he witnessed there, he tries to tell his fellow products, who aren't buying it. Put into another grocery cart the following day, Mr. Honey Mustard leaps to his death, upturning the cart and causing a "clean-up on aisle 2" situation the film depicts with carnage worthy of a war film. Call it Saving Private Spaghetti-O's.
In the chaos, Frank is stranded far from his shelf with Brenda and two other bread products — a Woody Allen-like bagel and a loaf of lavash that talks about the bottles of extra-virgin olive oil awaiting him in the next life. No, Sausage Party is not subtle in its lampooning of the conflict in the Middle East — and when it later gets to other "ethnic foods," it happily plays with all sorts of stereotypes, from a bottle of firewater that sounds like Johnny Depp's Tonto to a box of grits with a grudge against crackers.
Frank feels compelled to investigate these new claims about what lies beyond the supermarket's auto-open doors, and gets separated from his gluten-heavy friends while seeking wisdom from the store's non-perishable products. Meanwhile, his fellow groceries who were purchased and taken home for a July 4th picnic have confronted the hellish Great Beyond, and one, a deformed sausage named Barry (Michael Cera), is on an odyssey back to warn his friends.
Some of this action plays like a twisted riff on Finding Nemo, though Nemo never had to contend with a sleazeball human who was tripping balls after shooting up bath salts, encounter a talking used condom or flee from a roid-ragey, douchey villain who was, literally, a douche.
Sausage Party, billed as a work-in-progress screening, was, unlike similar events here, actually that. As Rogen said in his intro, this was not some practically-done studio feature where "they haven't color-timed it or some shit. You will very quickly see this is not semantical trickery — it's not f--king done yet." True enough, several scenes were still in one crude animatic stage or another; a couple barely had any movement at all. But even in this state, it was clear that the film plays strongly enough to deserve the outrages it perpetrates in its final scenes, when an all-out war on human consumers gives way to a pansexual orgy any pornographer would be proud to have imagined.
Not content with this exhaustive exploration of the carnal possibilities of foodstuffs, the film then gets meta, with a coda crossing over into the world of live action. Look out, Hollywood: These groceries are tired of being manipulated for the amusement of those who eat their brethren. They're coming for you, Seth Rogen — wipe that mustard and relish off your face.
Venue: South By Southwest Film Festival (Special Events)
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Production companies: Annapurna Pictures, Nitrogen Studios Canada, Point Grey Pictures
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek
Directors: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Screenwriters: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir
Producers: Megan Ellison, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Conrad Vernon
Executive producers: Jonah Hill, James Weaver, Ariel Shaffir, Kyle Hunter
Editor: Kevin Pavlovic
Composer: Alan Menken
Not rated, 85 minutes