Sausage Party (dir. Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan)

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Sausage Party”, an R-rated animated comedy about anthropomorphic food, is also a feature length argument for atheism and against religious belief.  It seems Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote this film, are more than a little interested in religion. They also wrote “This is the End”, which seemed to be a pro-Christian movie endorsing the Rapture, and also are producing “Preacher”, the TV series based on an anti-theist (but not atheist) comic book.  Now they give us a movie that loudly and with no subtlety argues that religion is a complete lie existing solely to make people less afraid of death.  That lie has spun to cause more harm than good, and should now be eradicated. But, the film argues that people need something else to belief in and live for if it is taken away, and the film has a line or two of dialogue talking to atheists, saying that you can’t win people over if you make those people feel stupid for those beliefs (even if those beliefs are stupid). Whether the film is arguing that religion needs to be replaced by revolution (the food in the film seem to launch an all-out revolution against the human race) or by Satanist hedonistic sex orgies, well…the film is more about diagnosing the problem than offering the solution.

Any sort of anti-religious message, no matter how much I may agree with it, wouldn’t matter if the film didn’t work as a comedy. Thankfully, in a summer that has given us lackluster comedies like “Neighbors 2” (by these same writers) and “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”, “Sausage Party” is a thoroughly hilarious film that uses scatological humor, profanity, lame puns, and animated visual gags to their full potential to create a film that is chocked full of laughs in almost every frame. Your miles may vary, obviously, but most of the jokes landed for me (yes, even the puns) and I laughed heartily at the vast majority of the film’s jokes. It may be a small group of films, but “Sausage Party” is right up there with “The Invention of Lying” as one of the funniest atheist films ever made.

The film largely takes place in Shopwell’s grocery store. It’s approaching July 4th and the hot dogs and the buns are hoping to be bought so they can fuck in “the great beyond”, their vague notion of the afterlife, which commences when one of the gods (humans) takes them from the store. Every morning as the store opens, the food sing a song dedicated to their love of the gods and their judgment and wisdom, and the food’s hope of being chosen to enter this paradise. Yeah, the film wastes no time into setting up its message about religion with a funny Disney-esque song. What’s funny is that these “gods” are universally bad people in the movie. The manager who opens the store (Paul Rudd) and various cashiers and customers are all depicted as jerks. The most sympathetic human we meet is a junkie (James Franco), which should tell you something. I suppose this is part of the point, as in the Abrahamic religions at least the god (Yahweh, Allah) is a huge asshole (read The Bible or the Quran) but people still worship him and think him to be loving and benevolent.

We meet Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog in a package waiting to enter the great beyond. His girlfriend is a bun in a neighboring package, Brenda (Kristin Wiig, who gets more laughs in 1 minute of this film than the entire “Ghostbusters” reboot had in its whole running time). Brenda is animated to look like a shapely woman with breasts and an ample ass because, well, cartoon logic. Frank shares a package with a stubby, somewhat defective hotdog named Barry (Michael Cera), who will go on his own journey. One day, a jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store, suffering from PTSD. He knows the truth,  that the “gods” are “monsters” that eat the food, and there is no paradise of the Great Beyond. Honey Mustard even tells the audience this, as the camera allows him to deliver the news that what we believe is bullshit directly to the viewer, pointing at us. Again, this movie is not for fans of subtlety. Most of the food shrugs off this knowledge, but Frank is curious. After a shopping cart accident leaves Frank and Brenda stranded in the store away from their package mates, who have been sold off, they set off on a journey back to their appropriate aisle. Frank, however, remembers Honey Mustard saying that another item, a bottle of alcohol named Firewater (Bill Hader), had told Honey Mustard to keep quiet about what he saw. Frank decides to seek Firewater out, and learn the truth about the great beyond once and for all.

Meanwhile, a Douche (Nick Kroll), who has the Jersey Shore-like personality his name would imply, is angry at Frank for the cart spill, which left Douche with a crack in his wide and a bent applicator. He ends up sucking liquid out of other food (from a dying juice box to various alcohol bottles) to get “juiced up” and goes on a revenge quest to kill Frank and Brenda.

Frank and Brenda aren’t alone on their journey. They are joined by a Jewish Bagel (Edward Norton) and an Arab lavash (David Krumholtz), whose relationship is a simplistic but funny parallel of the Israeli-Palestine border dispute (they share an aisle but bicker over territory). Vash, the lavash, also thinks the Great Beyond involves being slathered in 72 bottles of extra virgin olive oil, an obvious reference to a certain Muslim belief held by some of the faith, and shows that these different foods have different interpretations of their Great beyond myth, as well as different cultures. It could be easily argued that the characters in the film all hew to racist and ethnic stereotypes, but that’s sort of the point. Many Disney animated films, which this film is satirizing, rely on easy stereotypes in their characterizations. Pixar is less guilty of this, but by no means completely innocent.  “Sausage Party” is ultimately using the broad characterizations to make a point about the pointless divisions among the peoples of Earth while similarly using the same crude ethnic stereotyping that cartoons have been known for since the birth of animation. You can argue the film wants to have its cake and eat it too by using stereotyping for humor while at the same time commenting on it, and it certainly is, but there’s obviously no malice behind it.  The film is using this to argue later that the people of Earth of should get pest petty squabbles and divisions to join together to solve the real problems facing them.  When our main group is later joined by a lesbian taco, Teresa (Selma Hayek), we get a little spin on how religion places arbitrary rules on people which leads to them having internalized anguish and pain, including the shaming of homosexuals, premarital sex, and other so-called morals that don’t actually harm people.

There are many other parallels to religion. One character finds a cookbook, definitive proof that the humans eat food, and other food argue that it’s “only a theory”, or that their beliefs are more pleasant than the harsh reality being offered so they will choose the more pleasant belief. By simplifying the pro-religion arguments to having cartoon food whine about them, it exposes the problems with general apologetics in a better way than most atheist arguments can (plus, most people walking in to this film won’t know it’s an atheist argument, so they’ll be disarmed). Honestly, much like the “Purge” movies beat you over the head with their anti-economic inequality arguments, “Sausage Party” likewise is so blunt and obvious with its anti-religion argument that you’d have to be pretty fucking dense to not get it.

The more important thing, though, is that this film does its basic job of being superbly funny. From the little details in the background animation (many of which I’m sure I missed on a first viewing) to the horrifically funny violence against food, to the inventive objects which the film chooses to make sentient (a condom), this is a film jammed with things to smile, chuckle, and laugh at. The highbrow smart messaging actually works with the lowbrow humor of puns, scatological jokes, animated violence, and sex humor. When the horribly bad and poorly animated “Foodfight” was finally released, and it had weird adult humor, it seemed odd for a PG film. “Sausage Party” at least has the courage of its convictions and makes the film go as hard R as it can get. Both films have a similar premise, but “Sausage Party” is infinitely better animated, infinitely funnier, and smarter by a large amount. After a sea of disappointing comedies, “Sausage Party” is a breath of fresh air in that it is truly funny. By far the funniest film Rogen and Goldberg have written since “Superbad”. You will laugh, and you will laugh hard.

If I had to quibble with something, it would be that the film doesn’t clearly distinguish the rules as far as what objects are alive and which are not. Condoms and Toilet Paper are a yes, but cooking utensils, books, and shopping carts are not. Honestly, though, this is a film where hotdogs have legs and gloves, so I’m not going to be picky about realism here.  “Sausage Party” delivers on every level you want it to deliver on, and so for its own niche genre of R-rated animated atheist screeds, it is the pinnacle of its genre. A


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