Seth Rogen

Like Father (2018)

Like Father is a fine film if you have an hour and a half to spare and want to watch a sad, unfunny commercial for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Most of us don’t, but you’d be forgiven for trying since it keeps popping up on Netflix’s homepage and features bonafide stars and funny people Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, and Seth Rogen. The script, penned by Lauren Miller Rogen, who also directs and co-produces, has its moments and is touching in unexpected ways but never manages to find the right tone or convince us that its characters are worth caring about

It would be more compelling as a stripped down play, but then you wouldn’t get the flashy sales pitch for Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Sea ship. Ultimately, the floating bar and the surf pool are less interesting than the woeful tale of a work-obsessed daughter and her estranged father. After she is left at the altar, Rachel (Bell) goes on a drunken bender with dad Harry (Grammer), whom she hasn’t seen since she was five, and before the two come to their senses, they’re on a boat. Since the trip is meant to be her honeymoon, Rachel is constantly mistaken for Harry’s wife instead of his daughter. The encounters are never funny, except for one riotous and very inappropriate joke during a newlywed game. Instead, they land with an embarrassing thud like most of the movie’s attempts at humor. Take, for example, Rachel and Harry’s shipmates, which include a chatty young gay couple, an agreeable middle-aged black couple, and a sparky retired pair. The purpose of such an eclectic group seems to be wider breadth for joke-telling, but the characters turn out to be tired, uninspired choices who act exactly the way you’d expect.

Perhaps the movie was aiming for something along the lines of The Big Sick, which balanced serious laughs with plain seriousness. There’s a story to be told about Rachel and Harry, and it turns out Harry’s business partner and a case of early onset Alzheimer’s. (Miller Rogen is an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness and research.) Even Rogen, who has a small role as Rachel’s ship fling, Jeff, plays against type as a straightlaced teacher from Canada. He’s there less for the weed jokes and more to help Rachel come to terms with some pretty disappointing behavior. However, the film digs into the complicated father-daughter relationship too late in the game, wasting Bell and Grammer’s quietly heartbreaking performances.

When the emotional payoff finally comes, Rachel and Harry have already squandered the little good will they’ve built up. Neither are pleasant characters, but what’s more frustrating is the way Rachel pounces on her father in fits and starts. You can’t predict when she’ll rail at Harry for inserting himself back into her life and when she’ll casually agree to do karaoke with him. Follow through on your threats, girl. Rachel wants to get off the ship, she says she’ll get off the ship, but when she has a chance to get off the damn ship, she decides she might as well stay on after all. The script says she’s had a change of heart, but her face says there’s a movie to get through.

Released: 2018
Prod: Anders Bard, Amanda Bowers, Molly Conners, Lauren Miller Rogen
Dir: Lauren Miller Rogen
Writer: Lauren Miller Rogen
Cast: Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Rogen, Paul W. Downs, Zach Appelman, Leonard Ouzts, Blaire Brooks, Anthony Laciura, Brett Gelman
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Sausage Party (2016)

sausage-party

Those expecting a raunchy, expletive-laden comedy about fornicating foodstuffs will be pleased to know that Sausage Party delivers. Boy does it deliver. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jonah Hill – creators, frequent collaborators, and heroes to teenage boys everywhere – draw from their inexhaustible well of adult humor to bring you a movie about hot dog sex, supported by a cast of virginal buns and libidinous tacos. There’s also a massive food orgy for good measure, just in case you weren’t sure the exact tone they were aiming for. You might be surprised to find out though that the movie tries to leaven its material with thoughtful questioning on religious faith and even touches on certain political conflicts. That’s not to say I love Sausage Party or even recommend it, but you do get a little more than you paid for or expected.

Taking a cue from the many animated films featuring anthropomorphic toys and animals, this one dives into the secret life of food, an idea I imagine was shaped from the billows of weed smoke coming out of the writers’ room. The movie suggests as much in a scene where a guy thinks he sees talking food while he’s stoned. The main character is Frank (Rogen), a packaged wiener who sits suspiciously on a grocery aisle shelf and not the refrigerated section. Red, White, and Blue Day is coming up so he and his sausage mates are perched next to a pack of buns, one of whom is Brenda (Kristen Wiig). The two cannot wait to bust out of their plastic wrap and make sweet hot dog love, but Brenda, being the chaste bun that she is, fears reprisals from the food gods if they so much as touch tips, fingertips.

You see, every morning, the grocery store foods sing an anthem to the gods, praying for the day when they will be taken into the Great Beyond, which lies just past the doors. They don’t really know what goes on out there but they are “super sure there’s nothing shitty,” that it is a glorious promised land that can’t yet conceive of. This, by the way, is the tamest line in a relentless opening sequence that is equal parts shocking and hilarious. When a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) returns bearing horrific reports of murder and carnage, their whole existence is challenged. Most cannot fathom these stories of death by boiling, stabbing, and mashing. Frank, however, finds his faith shaken enough to seek the truth.

For a movie that features a literal douche (Nick Kroll) as the main villain [insert eye roll emoji], Sausage Party ventures into surprising territory. A commentary on faith is the last thing you’d expect these lusty vittles to inspire, and while it doesn’t delve into theological truths, it does make you think about religious behavior, how we come to a religious faith and how that dictates our morals and actions. The extended metaphor doesn’t exactly work – no one’s returned from the Great Beyond and lived to tell about it, but it does ask us to consider what motivates belief. In a fraught presidential election year, the same questions could be applied to our faith in politicians, or those posing as such. Not content to simply tackle one big issue, the movie also humorously pokes at the Middle East conflict in the form of a bickering lavash (David Krumholtz) and bagel (a perfectly Woody Allen-esque Edward Norton). The relationship isn’t revelatory but it is funny.

So smarter than expected is the conclusion here, but that’s faint praise considering that, in the end of the day, you’re still watching actual food porn. (The movie was a hair away from an NC-17 rating.) I’m amazed though not impressed by Rogen’s crew to continually seek out new and creative ways to act like teenage boys. Naturally it’s a matter of taste, and though I laughed out loud and thought more deeply than I wanted to, I’m quite happy keeping sex and intellect separate from talking wieners and used condoms.

Released: 2016
Prod: Megan Ellison, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Conrad Vernon
Dir: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Writer: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Neighbors

NBR_31_5_Promo_4C_5F.indd

American comedy is due for a makeover. Audiences have subsisted on gross-out bro humor for some time now (see the entire Judd Apatow oeuvre), and while the recent popularity of It-girl Amy Schumer signals a shift, it’s one in which women get to be just as bawdy and profane as the boys. That’s a win for gender equality but not so much for comedic diversity. Eventually funny stories about mature, responsible adults will have their day, but for now, frat boy gags still rule.

That’s literally the case with Neighbors, which pits rowdy coeds against a young couple adjusting to parenthood. When a fraternity, Delta Psi, moves in next door, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) find themselves frustrated by the students’ perpetual partying but also tempted to relive their own youth. The movie seems to recognize that there’s little dramatic currency in rehashing a story about perpetually sophomoric guys and that the genre, much like its protagonists, needs to grow up. While it doesn’t entirely upend the formula, it does tweak its message enough to freshen things up a bit.

It helps that the script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien is pretty damn funny. It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s always a riot. Why are the Radners the only ones in the neighborhood bothered by a raging house party at 4 a.m.? Why are the police so blind (deaf?) to noise ordinances? Why does the character Assjuice suddenly appear to bring down his own fraternity? Why does plot really matter when you have a bagful of college tricks at your disposal?

There’s everything you’d expect – penis jokes, penis and dildo jokes, weed highs, mushrooms highs, sex in front of a best friend, sex in front of a baby – all delivered in great, sweary abundance. When Mac and Kelly flood Delta Psi’s basement in an attempt to bankrupt them out of the house, president Teddy (Zac Efron) and vice-president Pete (Dave Franco) decide to 3D print their members’ members and sell them to pay for repairs. It’s wildly successful as a fundraiser and plot device, even though there are less obscene ways to accomplish both.

Temperance isn’t the operative word though, and Efron and Franco crank up the bluster. Efron shows that his image has graduated from the genial basketball player of his High School Musical days to raunchy beer pong champion. He confidently takes control of his scenes and, by the end of the film, even manages to win affection despite his character’s outlandish misbehavior. Franco, meanwhile, plays someone for whom the end-of-the-year party is not the end of all things. The actor slides with ease between a spliff-smoking frat boy and the brainy kid who wants to conquer something more substantial than a keg stand.

Pete’s anticipated transition is the current reality for Mac and Kelly, and they have not quite gotten over the surprise of having a baby or buying a house. They sneak around with the same slurry of excitement and trepidation as two underage kids who given the bouncer the slip. While the couple like the idea of being grown up and recognize some of the advantages of being a functioning adult, the arrival of Delta Psi challenges those priorities

The real struggle for them isn’t chasing college kids off the driveway or making sure there aren’t used condoms littered across the lawn but forgoing their impulse to do whatever the hell they want whenever they want. And it’s not just a dilemma that Mac faces. Though he thinks he has the better claim by virtue of his gender, Kelly also asserts her right to have a good time. Her reason isn’t stunted maturity so much as it is boredom. She doesn’t find stay-at-home motherhood all that it’s cracked up to be and longs to maintain an identity that isn’t dependent on her child or husband.

The role is a revelation for Byrne, who is better known for playing women who are too wound up. She seems to be savoring her part almost as much as her character. Of course Rogen doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen him do already, but he looks comfortable shying away from his bread and butter roles. Maybe everyone’s growing up after all.

Released: 2014
Prod: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Craig Roberts, Hannibal Buress, Brian Huskey
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015