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Two Drink Minimum: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s ‘Sausage Party’

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Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages writer Jacob Oller.

Remember when every food item or animal in commercials was sentient and excited to be eaten? The walking, talking M&Ms teeter back and forth on this one. They’re often wary of being eaten, but would always prefer to be eaten by a hot human rather than a creep. These curiously suicidal ‘toons are the obvious inspiration for Sausage Party’s main characters, with their gloves and shoes springing from their stick-like limbs.

They also share the same faith-like hope that humans will take them to a better place. Unlike the Dish of the Day from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, these self-aware foodstuffs don’t fully understand what it means to be eaten and they certainly aren’t advocating it. As the Dish explains, eating things isn’t the cruelty; it’s eating things who don’t want to be eaten.

This is where Sausage Party sits. Its living food is alive, but under the impression that humans are gods, here to take them to the promised land. Regardless of how Old Testament fatalistic that sounds, death (especially by consumption) is never on their minds.

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Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon bring a lot of animation experience to the (dinner) table as co-directors of this anthropomorphic and sophomoric grocery fable, but nothing that could prepare you for the amount of taste-stretching insanity that comes with a modern R-rated cartoon. The only time the two worked together previously was animating the disastrous Ralph Bakshi film Cool World, itself supposed to be an R-rated animated nightmare.

Nightmarish begins to scratch the surface of the film, but ironically, only at its best moments. The tag-team of writing duos that tackled the script (Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) decided to pack as many puns, gags and innuendo into their flick as possible, but the most fun comes when the cleverness is laid aside for parodic madness.

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Though it shares a lot with the trash-favorite Foodfight! (a terrifying film about grocery mascots fighting off Nazi-like generic brands), including the opening shot of the grocery store closing down, Sausage Party is smart enough to embrace its absurd nihilism to great effect. The other smart quality is quashing its production budget to infinitesimal sizes (about 9.5 percent of your average Pixar movie) so it gets the most bang for its targeted buck. There’s an importance and beauty to knowing your niche and gunning for it, even when your niche is juvenile stoners who leave Comedy Central on too late on a weekday night.

This niche will appreciate the weed jokes, the questionable racial and political pastiches and extraordinarily horny foodstuffs (this film passes the Bechdel Test!). In many ways, it’s like watching the Olympics. You may not understand every event or even grasp the differences between the best in the world or last place, but you respect the talent behind it. Rogen and crew (including Salma Hayek and Edward Norton) are world-class vulgarians, best when addressing madness at its strangest and most drug-induced conclusion. The “if-then” situations only get more ludicrous and enjoyable as these movies go on (see This Is the End, another excellently bizarro premise), only sometimes stifled by the plotting taken to get there.

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Though there are meandering paths taken down the grocery aisles, they’re never as annoying as a jankity cart wheel, only slower than the carnival of body horror (can it be called that if it’s food?) that comes when human and food meet. The joy of Sausage Party comes from its savagery, putting food into a warzone or a porno shoot, leaning into its debauchery covered in the living gore of a Thanksgiving meal. When caught up in its time-killing, like an extended (yet often clever) bit about a villainous douche, the film drags. But when it finds the Party, the movie brings down the house with a final half-hour bacchanal that’s the definition of stoner sublime.

From AAA TV to Z-movies, Chicago-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.

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