When I saw the work-in-progress version of SAUSAGE PARTY in March at SXSW, I refrained from reviewing it because it didn’t seem right reviewing a film that wasn’t complete. And this cut was truly incomplete, with large portions of the movie being either very rough animation (looking more like pre-viz graphics) and even some storyboards with only the voice work in place. But even that very rough draft of this decidedly R-rated animated extravaganza made it clear that SAUSAGE PARTY was going to be one of the funniest films of the year by simply taking everyday objects (in this case food and other goods you’d find in every grocery store) and looking at the world from their perspective.
Working from a screenplay by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film takes a deceptively simple concept and works in messages concerning relationships, the trouble in the Middle East, religious tolerance, along with the slightly more predictable bouts of sex, violence, ethnic humor, and the ever-present (in films by Rogen and Goldberg) drug references. SAUSAGE PARTY is set in a world where grocery store food sees humans as god who select them for entry into the Great Beyond, a wonderful place where they can live however they want and finally break free of their packaging. Our hot dog hero Frank (Rogen) has the hots for a tight little bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig), and the Fourth of July holiday is right around the corner, which means the gods are going to pick them very soon.
But something unexpected happens when a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store and put back on the shelf. He’s in such complete shock at what he saw on the other side that he can’t even get the words out, but his claims that the gods are actually horrible, destructive monsters largely fall on deaf ears. But Frank’s curiosity is piqued, and after a shopping cart mishap that leaves quite a few products in chaos, Frank and Brenda decide they need to find the all-knowing Firewater (a bottle of booze dressed like a Native American and voiced by Bill Hader) to get some answers. They are accompanied by a bagel named Sammy (Edward Norton, doing his best Woody Allen impersonation) and flatbread named Lavash (David Krumholtz), both of whom embody the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in their discussions of shelf space on their aisle. It would be even funnier if it wasn’t so tragic.
While Frank goes seeking answers, some of his hotdog buddies have been purchased and are headed to someone’s home for dinner. Michael Cera plays the slightly misshapen hotdog Barry, who manages to escape after he witnesses what, to him, looks like a massacre in a kitchen. He lands in the home of a bath salts-taking druggie (James Franco) who is able to see and hear the talking food around him when fully stoned. SAUSAGE PARTY is like the stoner LORD OF THE RINGS, with various combinations of characters traveling together in search of the truth about their condition, battling fearful adversaries like Douche (Nick Kroll), an actual douche who has leaked out his actual contents and replaced them with the contents of a juice box, making him a pumped-up, sugar-fueled dick who wants revenge on Frank for bending his nozzle and ruining his chances to fulfill his destiny.
At every turn, in every new aisle is a take on the life of food that we’ve never considered. The booze section is a non-stop party, the aisle with knives and other cutlery is a cold, scary place with no life, the frozen food aisle is a freezing tundra. And while the jokes range from obvious puns and wordplay to more stinging commentary on the world we live in (Frank delivers a monologue about how ridiculous it is that the food believes in this story of the Great Beyond just because someone told them it was a wonderful place).
With supporting voice work from the likes of Salma Hayek (as a lesbian taco), Craig Robinson (grits), and Paul Rudd (as store clerk Darren, one of the few human characters in the film), SAUSAGE PARTY is a colorful, energetic, sharp, beautifully animated bit of adult entertainment, complete with a food-orgy final sequence that will test your limits (I’m sure it tested the MPAA’s). It genuinely shocked me to learn that the film was co-directed by Greg Tiernan. Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (MADAGASCAR 3, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, SHREK 2) have populated every corner of the frame with something to look at, whether that be subtle visual gags or just details that complete the world of the supermarket.
For those complaining that SAUSAGE PARTY is too low-brow: have you never seen a Rogen-Goldberg production? Even their highest-brow ideas (THE INTERVIEW, THIS IS THE END) tend to work both ends of the comedy taste scale. Above all else, the film is screamingly funny, never missing the opportunity for innuendo or just outright dirty jokes, but also making certain to keep one eye on one or two highfalutin ideas as well. It’s a delicate balance that doesn’t always stay perfectly horizontal, but it provided me with more jokes per minute than any other film I’ve seen in 2016. In the end, that’s what counts.