Ain’t no party like a Sausage Party!
Sausage Party turned out to be the bizarre, shameless comedy treat of the year. Its foul-mouthed, spectacularly offensive exterior gives way to a genuinely thoughtful and smart examination of the foibles of modern religious identities and the politics of belief that have so permeated a great deal of political discourse. It also works well as a delightfully self-aware spoof of animated films, even if it at times indulges a little too much in its absurdly offensive nature. If you can stomach all the vulgarity, then you will have a lot of fun watching Sausage Party.
Going into it, I had no idea of what to make of Sausage Party. Most of its advertising, promotion, and marketing made it come off like just another raunchy stoner comedy, this perception helped along somewhat by the presence of Rogen and Franco. As it turns out, Sausage Party is actually far from that, and in a lot of ways, turned out to be one of the most strangely satisfying surprises of the year.
The premise of Sausage Party is suitably bizarre. Taking place in a world where our food is alive and sentient, the foodstuff inhabitants of the local supermarket all dream of the day that the “Gods” (which would be us humans) will take them away from the supermarket and into the “Great Beyond” (basically everything outside of the supermarket), where the Gods will pamper and care for them endlessly. The story follows Frank (Seth Rogen) and Brenda (Kirsten Wiig), a sausage and hotdog bun respectively, that are destined to be together in the Great Beyond. They both get taken off their shelves and carried toward the Great Beyond, but a spill in the aisle causes them both to end up out of the cart. Frank and Brenda’s journey back to their shelf in time for “Red, White, and Blue Day”, which is a prophesized day among food where the “Gods” will take them all away to the Great Beyond, leads them to various self-discoveries and the truth of their existence and their beliefs.
It should be said that Sausage Party is an incredibly crass film – and let me be clear that when I say crass, I mean crass. From the very first line to the very last, its dialogue is laden with basically every kind of swear word and profanity under the sun. The film pulls zero punches with being as foul and non-child friendly as possible and revels in every single profaned second of it. It takes it to such a gloriously ludicrous degree that the initial jarring shock of how blatant it is quickly wears off and is replaced with delight at its sheer absurdity. I mean, the main villain of the film is a douche: not figuratively, a literal bottle of douche (Kroll). Additionally, without giving too much away, one of the final scenes of the film could be one of the most explicit things I’ve seen in a film for quite a while. Of course the crassness only ramps up when we’re introduced to the supporting cast, all of whom are, on a surface level, shockingly racist stereotypes of all colors and creeds. There’s a Jewish bagel (Norton), a Muslim lavash (Krumholtz), a Spanish lesbian taco (Hayek), and a Native-American bottle of alcohol complete with war paint (Hader). They are just a few examples, and some of the most prominent characters to boot. It would be very easy, and understandable, to see a lot of viewers and audiences being immediately put off or disgusted by the sheer audacity of the film’s foul mouth and unapologetically offensive caricatures and stereotypes.
My advice however, is to stick with it, because all the crassness and offensive material serves a purpose that, by the end of the film, makes it all seem almost brilliant. Beneath its “raunchy stoner comedy” flesh beats the heart of a surprisingly nuanced and intelligent plot, and as the film progresses, the flesh gets stripped away and the film transforms into an undeniably bizarre but kind of amazing spoof of every animated family film of the last ten years, especially those of the Disney-Pixar variety. Everything from the lively, bouncy style of animation, to the spectacularly foul, yet cheery opening song of the film perfectly captures the style of your typical animated family movie. This even extends into the way the film explores its surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful themes and ideas. Throughout the film, the ideas the food have of the Gods and the Great Beyond are often bought into question, and the way these ideas and the film’s “morals” are related are a fantastically executed spoof of the pattern of your typical Disney-Pixar-esque film – dumbed-down enough to be clear, but not insulting. And it’s related in a simplistic allegorical fable style that perfectly captures the spirit of every recent animated film. And as this carefully handled deconstruction and tackling of these ideas of religion and belief progresses, the initial shock of the racial stereotypes begins to dissipate. It morphs from shameless exploitation to a surprisingly poignant and biting satire of the very stereotypes themselves (and as long as we’re still picking on Disney, a damning shot at its less-than-spectacular history of racial stereotyping for entertainment.) Sausage Party is also wonderfully self-aware, laden with plenty of reflexive and self-mocking gags and moments, including one truly spectacular one by its end. It’s weird to think that a film that’s so unashamedly foul and offensive could provide such a thoughtful and even-handed deconstruction and comment on the politics of modern religion and the way we engage with our beliefs, but that’s exactly what it does. It’s a lesson in how to actually take this kind of raunchy material and make it work toward something worthwhile and intelligent instead of just throwing it in for empty shock value like so many similar comedy films have done in the past.
One of Sausage Party’s weaker aspects, however, was performance. While the all-star cast on display here did admirably with the material, there weren’t really any performances on display here that were exactly standouts. While there were certainly some very entertaining performances, like Edward Norton doing his best Woody Allen impression as Sammy Bagel Jr. or Nick Kroll cranking it up to absolute dude-bro eleven as (ahem) Douche, on the whole, most of the cast simply came across as fine and not necessarily great. It should also be said that while I already praised the film both for its shameless offensiveness and its gag-laden story-telling, it does both of these things to such an excess that it can become quite exhausting, since its basically wall-to-wall for the entirety of the film’s 88 minute run. There were definitely times were I was waiting for a scene to provide a brief release from it’s crass barrage and was left wanting. This was especially true of some of the film’s more overt running gags, while certainly giggle inducing for their first few times, eventually begin to wear out their comedy value, especially the ones that reared their head perhaps a little too often. There are also more than a few occasions where the film’s aggressively self-aware nature and endless drive to parody the animated film genre can go overboard and carry the film out of “smart” territory and into “thinks its smart” territory. All that said, however, these were minor quibbles, as Sausage Party hit far more than it missed.