In a world where children are often used as soldiers and young girls are often sold off into marriage with much older men, I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me that as I was entering the theater to catch the very R-rated animated feature Sausage Party that I would look to my side and see a young couple entering with their two preteen children in tow.
It did surprise me, but it probably shouldn't have.
It probably also shouldn't have surprised me that somehow, against all odds, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill would figure out a way to turn a relentlessly raunchy, off-color, offensive and deservedly R-rated animated feature into one of 2016's most unexpectedly awesome surprises and a film that manages to turn all that raunch into one of the year's most insightful and, yeah I'm going to say it, hopeful films.
You will either rush to the theater or completely avoid the theater largely due to what you expect you're going to find from a film weaving together the Rogen, Hill and Goldberg sensibilities and that is easily promised by its provocative title, though without question you will leave the theater, if your mind is open, completely blown away by the rather sublime weaving together of theological reflection and scatological humor.
Yeah, don't ask me how. Somehow, it all works.
I had to chuckle as I arrived at the ticket counter and was greeted by a sign informing me that Sausage Party was an R-rated feature, a fact that has been widely advertised and should likely be assumed given the talent involved. The film centers around Frank, a cynical sausage at the local Shopwell's supermarket, who has lingering doubts about the truth in popular stories of "The Great Beyond" brought to life in an Alan Menken-penned tune that opens the film and opens each day at the Shopwell's.
If you've followed many of the Rogen/Goldberg works over the years, then you likely already know they have a rather healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to matters of faith, though I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call them anything close to haters. That skepticism is on full display in Sausage Party, coming to life in Frank's growing awareness that life beyond Shopwell's isn't the blissful wonderland everyone believes it to be but a date with the domestic killing fields of the gods or, in this case, the shoppers who visit Shopwell's on a daily basis. When a jar of Honey Mustard, voiced by Danny McBride, is returned to the shelves after having been "chosen" with horrifying stories of life on the outside, Frank's long simmering skepticism overflows.
All of this insight is somehow wrapped around a story about Frank and Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a comely bun just trying to stay fresh until, if the gods so choose, she and Frank can be "chosen" together and he can stick his sausage inside her bun.
Sigh. I'll admit it. I'm laughing even now.
Unfortunately for everyone, life beyond those sliding glass doors really is an awful lot different than one would think and being "chosen" isn't really all that it's cracked up to be. Even if you don't necessarily get all of the film's references, you can have an awful lot of fun here. If you do get all the references? There will be times you'll practically be falling out of your chair laughing.
The film is directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan and is mostly based off a story by frequent collaborators Rogen and Goldberg. If there's a problem with the film, and that's really inaccurate because there's more than one, the primary one would be that there are times that incessant naughtiness plays like an uncredited extra character who doesn't really need to be around. The word "fuck" is a mighty powerful word and can be tremendously effective when used well, though it starts to lose its impact when used frivolously and without clear purpose. There are times in Sausage Party when "fuck" feels like lazy writing rather than essential dialogue.
If you're watching closely and cinematically aware, you'll be more than a little impressed with how Rogen and Goldberg weave in cinematic history, such as a spot-on Saving Private Ryan recreation, to bouncing around every political and cultural stereotype currently making the headlines including an ongoing conflict between a bagel named Sammy (Edward Norton) and a pita named Vash (David Krumholtz), the latter dreaming of a an afterlife with 70,000 bottles of virgin olive oil and who resents having to share an aisle with Sammy. Salma Hayek shows up as Teresa Taco, a closeted Mexican lesbian who both crushes on and helps out Brenda, while the film's closest thing to a villain is Nick Kroll's hilariously overwrought douche, who preys on the weak in an effort to build up his own strength. Heck, there's even a bit of disability jabbing in here courtesy of a Hawking-esque wad of gum voiced by Scott Underwood, who also delights as Twink, pizza and Krinkler's Chips. Michael Cera is also perfection as Berry, an abnormally short sausage who hopes one day to find himself a smooshed bun for a perfect fit.
Seriously, just go with it.
If you're easily offended, and you should know it if you are, then Sausage Party is probably a film for you to avoid, though there wasn't a single moment where I found myself thinking "That's just too far!" More often than not, I found myself thinking "That's freaking amazing!" While I'm not sure I ever expected to use the phrases "hilarious fuck fest" and "theologically enlightening" in the same film review, such is the case with Sausage Party, which above all seems to be one of this year's most incredibly hilarious and incredibly hopeful films that projects, just perhaps, we can figure out how to get along despite all our differences and, maybe just maybe, we can all reach whatever serves as nirvana to each of us.
With tremendous use of music from past and current artists and delightful, and refreshingly non-3D, animation from Nitrogen Studios, Sausage Party is a little bit of heaven whether you believe in it or not.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic