Rogen’s Sausage Party is, and is not, exactly what you’d expect.
Heaven awaits just beyond the bright lights and through the automatic doors. Those of us chosen, by the grace of the gods, will be carried into eternal bliss and into the ecstasy of the afterlife. No, it’s not the latest plot from the Left Behind series or the slug line from the next Kirk Cameron Christmas movie. It is actually the premise behind the latest Seth Rogen joint and there is one caveat: We are the gods and our lunch is praying to be delivered from the supermarket shelves. Our packaged foods wait eagerly to be plucked up and dropped into the grocery cart–only to be tragically sliced, diced, gnawed and chewed. Could this conspicuously lame premise last a full-length feature film? Not if that was the only thing Sausage Party had going for it, but there’s more. Come to see the talking hot dogs, but stay for the philosophical discourse and deep existential questions.
First, don’t bring the kids. Really, don’t. Watching Sausage Party, I was having flashbacks of angry (and clueless) parents dragging their chuckling ten year olds from 2004’s Team America: World Police, and, there are some fitting comparisons to be made between the two films. The legendary puppet sex scene of Stone and Parker’s film has a rival in Sausage Party‘s climactic (pardon the pun) food orgy–you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a taco shell in full cunnilingus with a bun. If Team America is the masterful sardonic send up of Bush era politics, then Sausage Party is the satirical middle finger to religious fundamentalism in the age of ISIS, and well worth a watch.
Seth Rogen has assembled his usual writing crew, a la Pineapple Express and This is the End, and it shows. Sausage Party is a bong load of stoner jokes and addict easter eggs, venturing brazenly into the ugly psychotic drug fringe of dirty condoms and bath salts–and manages to pull off some uncomfortable and truly great gutter laughs in the process. Sausage Party‘s fearless romp into and over social taboos is reminiscent of a 1970’s John Landis or Harold Ramis film, but with a bleak thematic undertone that is absent from those earlier works. Evan Goldberg, who worked with Rogen on Superbad, gives Sausage Party a similar crusty authenticity: the stoner culture receives no spit and polish here, only the spit. The script has an honesty that is crucial to its comedic irony, which is so often missed by lesser screenplays.
However, let’s not wax hyperbolic about the intellectual prowess of this film: it’s ultimately an extended dick joke (pun totally intended) even if it’s a really funny one. Sausage Party knows its audience and, to no one’s surprise, there are a lot of f-bombs dropped during the ninety minute runtime. What would have been otherwise comic with measured use becomes mere background noise after about fifteen minutes. Undoubtedly, the film’s juvenile profanity conjures up more than a few laughs at first. What’s not to love about a baby carrot saying, “Motherfucker”? Yet, with a constant barrage of dialogue that sounds a lot like a round of Call of Duty with twelve year olds, most of its wry humor is lost. Still, what is left works.
What Sausage Party gets right, and where it scores again and again, is in its unexpected social and philosophical commentary, as insane as that sounds. While it is unlikely Rogen and company will be invited to Oxford’s next symposium on Philosophical and Ethical Studies, they do use their grocery motif to explore a number of divisive issues: international territorial disputes, racial conflict, and religious belief. It does this with surprising clarity and smarts. Some of the funnier and more cutting character moments include a Jewish bagel and an Arab Lavash bonding (almost) over hummus, a box of grits vowing revenge against the oppressive “crackers,” and a jar of Nazi sauerkraut promising to “exterminate the juice.” As with the best satirical works, Sausage Party laughs at the worst of human nature, opening it up for the ridicule it deserves. It does not, as some have suggested, celebrate it. It joyfully mocks it.
So, fire up the barbecue, roast some corn, and crack open a jar of sauerkraut. If there is any truth to Sausage Party‘s central theme, then you’d be doing the world a service–the food you will be killing is just as twisted, naive, and violent as the rest of us, and we could all benefit from a little less of that. And, if you’re up for a few adult laughs, you could do worse than a movie that challenges its audience’s maturity in the most juvenile ways.