If you knew that heaven was a lie, would you be compelled to tell everyone, or just make a bunch of dick jokes?
Sausage Party’s answer is “both.” As usual, spoilers follow!
This is a very strange film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say. The first ten minutes appear to be the result of a self-imposed challenge to see how many times the word “fuck” can be uttered. I have nothing against vulgarity or lowbrow comedy, either. Deadpool, of which I had very low expectations, turned out to be excellent. Its juvenile humor was nevertheless clever–it’s a smarter movie than it appeared.
Sausage Party, by comparison, is not as smart as it thinks it is.
The premise is simple: the food items in the Shopwell’s grocery store are alive. They follow a religion which is reinforced through song every morning, a belief system which tells of the Great Beyond outside the store’s walls. In the Great Beyond, foodstuffs are no longer trapped by their packaging. Instead, they are freed by the gods (humans) and allowed to pursue their desires. What do the edibles in Sausage Party desire?
They all want one thing: to fuck. They have no higher aspirations.
The main character is Frank, supposedly a sausage (given the title), but obviously a hot dog. He wants to slip himself inside Brenda, a nearby hot dog bun he’s horny for. They both long for when one of the gods will buy them and take them into the Great Beyond, where they can be unpackaged and consummate their relationship. But Frank soon learns that the Great Beyond is a lie. Outside Shopwell’s, there is only death. The gods consume items like Frank and Brenda. All that awaits them is oblivion.
Frank tries to tell the other foods the truth, but they deride and dismiss him. Some characters essentially tell him he’s being a jerk. If all he’s going to do is shoot down people’s beliefs but not offer them anything better, what good is he accomplishing? So, on the one hand the film is making what seems like an atheist argument, but quickly turns that around to decry Frank’s actions. Does that make the film pro-atheism or pro-religion? It doesn’t seem to be particularly pro- or anti-anything. Instead, it wants to make jokes at everyone’s expense without making a real point.
This pattern appears over and over. Perhaps the worst aspect is how much blatant stereotyping there is in this movie. It’s hard to imagine that, in 2016, we have a major feature film which doesn’t feature one or two racial stereotypes, but a lot more. Let’s see if I can count them:
1. Firewater is a bottle of liquor that is clearly Native American. 2. Mr. Grits is an angry black man in the form of a box of grits. 3. Teresa is a hard-shell taco and an obvious "hot Latina" stereotype: sultry, hypersexualized, and also gay, for some reason. 4. Bagel is a neurotic Jew with a large nose. I'm not kidding. 5. Lavash is an Arab/Muslim flatbread who hates Bagel's people for invading and occupying his aisle, and of course hates all bagels.
Then there’s Twinkie, who’s flamboyantly gay, because what else would a Twinkie be? This perfectly exemplifies how lazy Sausage Party is. The human characters fare no better. The two human men who figure into the story at all are a bespectacled, pimple-faced, arrogant nerd, and a drug-abusing loser who ineptly gets himself killed. What human women appear in this movie exist to be objectified, leered at by the male foods, who contemplate entering their vaginas.
Some sort of statement could be made about the theological implications of wanting to have sex with your gods. Sausage Party is too confused to mine such an opportunity. It’s more interested in making crude, juvenile jokes and puns.
It’s a shame because there are some great scenes here. The film excels at being darkly humorous in unexpected ways. There’s an early scene where a few items fall out of a cart and are damaged, destroyed, or rolled over. From the perspective of the food on the floor, it’s a grisly scene akin to a battlefield. A cloud of flour obscures vision. A jar of peanut butter weeps over his wife, a shattered bottle of jelly. Dazed, an Oreo cookie stumbles around for and absent-mindedly picks up his missing rear cookie. A banana’s “face” falls off as he dies, revealing a creepy skeletal form in its flesh. Such carnage is hilarious precisely because it’s so absurd. It’s surprisingly effective.
There’s some effective horror, too, when a package of hot dogs makes it to a woman’s home in the Great Beyond, and they begin to be prepared for dinner, unaware of their circumstances until it’s too late. A potato screams as he’s peeled, then tossed into a boiling pot of water. A hot dog, intent on escaping, is instead sliced in half by a large knife, horrifying bystanders. To see this happen to people would be nauseating, like the gore porn of a Saw movie. Seeing it happen to food is extremely funny, albeit maybe a little disturbing.
One element that works extremely poorly is the putative villain. Douche is… well, he’s a literal douche, who stomps around in a ‘roid rage fueled by grape juice and vodka. While he is key to a final action setpiece, he never comes off as a particularly credible or interesting villain. He happens to want one more thing than all the other characters: they just want sex, but he wants sex and revenge. This does not pass for complexity, even in a film where everyone else is so one-dimensional. It’s fortunate he’s only a musclehead/bro stereotype and doesn’t have any racial caricaturing thrown in for good measure.
An aspect that works somewhat better is Frank’s ultimate plan to save all the food in Shopwell’s. After being chastised for making the foods confront their own mortality at the hands of the gods, he comes up with a better idea: kill the gods and thus survive. The way this plays out is bizarre and quite funny, and involves dosing the humans with bath salts which allows them to see the foods as they “really” are. The tripping humans then lose their minds, because of course food can’t talk and physically assault them, so they must have gone insane. The foods wage a pitched battle against their godly manipulators, and win. Because this film vacillates endlessly between nihilism and hedonism, the only thing that can follow such unbridled carnage is an orgy. If you ever wondered how a hot dog, a taco shell, a flatbread, a bun, and a bagel might have sex with each other simultaneously, Sausage Party illustrates it quite explicitly.
Finally, as if for lack of a better way to end it, the film breaks the fourth wall and leaves off somewhat ambiguously. This is probably just as well.
This is a film that feels like far less than the sum of its parts. Some brilliantly-executed scenes of food-based violence, hilarious sight gags, and intriguing thematic content are undermined by gross stereotyping, sexism, and unimaginative potty humor. A shorter, more interesting film could likely have been made that kept the stronger elements and the jokes that work while eschewing the vulgarity and stereotyping that drags it down. For a movie with so many talented people involved, from Seth Rogen to Edward Norton to Salma Hayek, the characters are written as if they represent an adolescent’s idea of what adulthood is like. Except, of course, the adults are food.
I can’t exactly recommend Sausage Party. Critics inexplicably love it, as if wall-to-wall F-bombs are somehow novel and edgy in 2016. I don’t get it. I do think there’s a good movie dying to escape from the juvenile trappings. I just hope it wants to do something more interesting than slip erotically into a toasted bun.