Seth Rogen, like weed itself, has always been an acquired taste. In Sausage Party, the flavor is stronger than it’s ever been.
The film zeroes in on Frank (Rogen, who also writes and produces), an anthropomorphic hot dog in an eight-pack for sale at Shopwell’s. Every morning, all the store’s items wake up and sing to their gods, the shoppers, whom they hope will carry them to eternal life in the Great Beyond before they expire and are thrown away. Early in the film, a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned by a customer who wanted actual mustard, screaming of the horrors he witnessed after being taken home. After inadvertently being removed from his package, Frank goes to the non-perishable items for wisdom, and then on a quest beyond the frozen foods section to seek proof of Honey Mustard’s claims. Fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill, who also contributed to the story) and Barry (Michael Cera) end up in the Great Beyond, and discover the truth — that the gods are evil and consume them for power.
It’s not much of a financial risk, but they shoved all their artistic chips in the pot with this. Sausage Party is total, no-holds-barred comedy. Nothing is off-limits, nothing is sacred and absolutely every idea that would work was crammed in. In a comedy landscape where everything tries to be raunchy but is afraid of the NC-17 rating, Sausage Party uses animation to duck the rating without making any real sacrifices to its pulpy credentials.
To say nothing else for this movie, Sausage Party is absolutely stuffed to the gills with comedy. Filler is an art form in modern movies, with awful family storylines frequently interrupting genre pieces to play up the general audiences angle while also disguising a lack of real content. Comedies are worse — they regularly go into production with holes in the script to be filled with off-the-cuff stuff, which is rarely as good as the director thinks it is. The final result is often long lulls in the movie.
Sausage Party doesn’t have that problem at all. Almost every moment contains some kind of joke, and those jokes are usually fairly complex. There are a ton of poop and sex jokes, but they’re always through some kind of lens, they’ve always got some kind of extra spin to make them genuinely brain-tickling. Rogen, Hill and co-writer/producer Evan Goldberg put absolutely everything they had into this idea, and the result is an 88 minute movie with about 140 minutes worth of jokes. It’s extremely dense, almost too dense. It becomes a real problem by the big dumb action scene at the end, when there’s too much happening too fast to really process.
The movie is designed to be extremely offensive, and it’s so broadly offensive that it kind of raises questions as to what that means. Misogynist epithets and sexual images that would never fly in a live action movie are everywhere in Sausage Party, and every culture they can think of gets a pretty on-the-nose stereotype. The obvious defense is that it’s OK because they’re making fun of everyone equally, but that’s not quite true, and it’s not quite the only defense. The stereotypes the film relies on are used to build characters and make jokes, but rarely are they used to take power away from the characters they apply to. It’s an interesting study in using ugly beliefs as tools while mostly avoiding actual ugliness.
The best way to explain it is by detailing how Sausage Party handles the only group it really has it out for — Christians, specifically American Christians. The movie is about Frank discovering there is no afterlife after dedicating his life to and making some pretty significant sacrifices for the idea, and trying to tell everyone in the store so they can do something about it. The metaphor for belief in God swiftly becomes a metaphor about denying science, as the food items largely reject Frank’s ideas despite the evidence he presents and say that they’d rather believe the story that made them feel good inside. Sausage Party isn’t just singling out a belief system here, it’s singling out the zeal and active ignorance many apply to that belief system. Most of the stereotypes the film deals in are along those lines — crude at the surface, but well thought-out underneath.
The entire thing is deceptively thoughtful, really. There are moments when you can tell people were keeping a close eye on the script. There are moments where the filmmakers, even in a movie where there were clearly no holds barred, eschew a simple grossout gag because they can think of a funnier way to continue the scene.
In a movie that holds nothing sacred and actively tears down what the viewer might hold sacred, it’s clear that Rogen and Goldberg did have a guiding value here — to make the funniest movie they could with the premise they had. They stuck to it with almost religious zeal.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.