Friday, 9 September 2016

Sausage Party

As a general fan of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg's work, I had pretty high expectations for Sausage Party - the duo's first foray into animation that wanted to retain the adult humour of all of their other works. Their peak as comedy writers lies with 2008's Pineapple Express, a film that is both wonderfully audacious and brilliantly funny, the rare example of a comedy that holds up on repeat viewings. Alternatively we have the likes of This Is The End, a film that is terrific fun on first viewing but relies so heavily on shock value that any re-watches prove difficult to enjoy. I kind of expected Sausage Party to fall nicely into the same category as This Is The End. The film appeared very funny and brilliantly original, but I expected it to rely so heavily on slapstick and sexual humour that it just wouldn't hold up on a second viewing. I have to express my disappointment, then, that the film doesn't even really work first time around. There are a quite a few things preventing Sausage Party from living up to its true potential, but the one that fights its way to the front is the fact that the film just isn't very funny.

Sausage Party focuses on a sausage named Frank (Seth Rogan) and a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig), who live in separate packages next to each other in a supermarket and want to be taken home by a customer together. All of the food in the shop look up to humans as Gods, and want nothing more than to be picked by them and taken home. When a customer takes a jar of mustard home and then returns it, the mustard jar spreads the word that humans butcher and kill the food when taken home, causing Frank to suffer an existential crisis and attempt to discover the truth about what happens when humans take the food home. Much like many other films this summer, Sausage Party is filled to the brim with potential. The comedy, if nicely written, could really flow the whole way through and the themes, if handled affectionately, could provide a really powerful framework for the film. But, also like many other films this summer, the film almost completely squanders its potential and falls into a poorly handled, sex-obsessed mess.

For a reason I'm not fully sure of, the film's humour just doesn't click. Like its innuendo title suggests, Sausage Party relies mostly on sexual humour, but this hasn't really been an issue for Rogan and co. before. Bad Neighbours is filled with R-rated comedy and it nails almost all of it, but Sausage Party's hit to miss ratio lies at a pretty woeful 20:80. The film isn't like other comedies in which it's tough to locate where the humour lies, in fact it's generally pretty easy to work out the moments that this film is trying to be funny, it's just that none of it really lands. There are a few inspired moments littered throughout - an early moment spawned by two colliding trolleys and an exploded bag of flour turns the supermarket floor into a misted battlefield, and the pun-filled line "I relish the fact that you mustard the strength to ketchup to me" perfectly nails the so-bad-its-good quality - but for the most part Sausage Party is more awkward than outrageous. There are a number of decent ideas floating about amid the endless stream of puns, but they're pulled down by the film's uneven comedic choices. When Sausage Party drifts its focus away from the sexual humour and the puns it's able to draw a good few laughs, but it only takes a minute before we're back to the awkwardly handled innuendos all over again, and the film just stops being funny.

What surprised me mostly about Sausage Party, though, was its willingness to dive into some pretty thought-provoking themes and ideas. The film takes on themes like religion and existentialism, but, much like its humour, it completely mishandles them. Firstly, the points that the film wants to make are hammered in so heavily that any kind of interesting discussion post-film is meaningless. Sausage Party talks about not blindly following religion and encourages thinking for yourself but gets its points across with such force that there isn't any room to interpret anything for yourself, meaning the film essentially prevents viewers from doing what it's trying so hard to encourage. The themes are simply too big for a film of this kind. Secondly, and perhaps most crucially, themes like this only work when they are bound nicely to the characters of the film, and when we can watch as the characters slowly come to realise the issues and embark on a journey, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. Sausage Party is completely devoid of any character development or dynamics, and thus the themes have nothing to sit with. Frank's jump from blind follower of faith to revolution leader doesn't really work simply because it happens too quickly, and there's nothing particularly interesting about the ways that he tries to draw others to his cause. To tackle religion and existentialism, we need to feel the impact this journey of self-discovery has on these characters, and the film's handling of its characters (as well as its almost redundant resolution) simply isn't up to scratch.

I never expected gritty character development from a film like Sausage Party, but that's because I didn't expect the film to take on the themes that it did. It sounds petty to criticise an animated Seth Rogan film about sexualised food for having little character work, but it really does have a huge impact on the film. Take other recent animations with big themes, for example. Zootropolis took on immigration and xenophobia and succeeded wonderfully by binding these themes to Judy as a character and taking her, and the rest of the city, on a powerful emotional journey. Finding Dory handled mental illness and family, but used carefully integrated flashbacks and the physical journey of finding loved ones to allow these themes to flourish. Sausage Party gets so caught up in its crude jokes that it winds up simultaneously doing the two absolute worst things you can do with a film's themes: it hammers its point across too much, and without the well defined character work to succeed. There are moments of inspiration throughout, and the voice cast is pitch-perfect (Seth Rogan, Michael Cera, James Franco, Salma Hayek, Kristen Wiig, Craig Robinson and Bill Hader are all superb), but Sausage Party doesn't have any clue what it wants to be, which forces its two biggest selling points to come crashing down in rather unspectacular fashion.

To Summarise: Despite the best efforts of its undeniably talented cast and crew, Sausage Party fails to correct its uneven humour, thinly sketched characters and sloppily handled thematic content.

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