Sausage Party (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Apr/170

Sausage Party (2016)

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Blessings to the gods, for they might free food from its packaging and bring it to the great beyond.  But is the promise of paradise one the gods intend on keeping, or are the traumatic mutterings of foods returned to the store to be trusted?  Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan direct Sausage Party, with the screenplay written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, and stars an ensemble cast led by Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig.

There's an enraging trend among comedy apologists to label weak or offensive material, "satire," and let that stand as the end-all / be-all of critical discussion.  Good satire, like irony in our internet age, is growing increasingly rare as our collective cynicism and poorly thought out intellectual stances struggle to find relevance against the horror of our existence.  I don't want to take away from whatever coping mechanism you, dear reader, use to get by in these distressing times.  But I can't condone the idea of Sausage Party's vile and shallow observations passing as good satire, or as any kind of comfort.

I was intrigued by the basic premise of Sausage Party because the field of Western-produced adult-oriented animation has been sparse.  The last artist of note I can think of to work consistently in this vein is Ralph Bakshi, he of Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and - most relevant to Sausage Party - Coonskin.  It's the latter work that came to mind as I was trying to process my disgust with Sausage Party.  With Coonskin, Bakshi was working with undeniably racist images in a sincere attempt to make sense of the sympathy he felt toward those struggling in cities.  Sausage Party is not working from a realm of sympathy.  It's entire philosophical thrust is akin to being stuck with the once Christian now Atheist Midwest college boy who keeps shaking his head and muttering, "poor thing," when encountering sincere faith.

I don't have the time nor patience for that kind of shallow nonsense anymore and Sausage Party was every bit as insufferable as my time with those arrogant pissants.  Any hope I had for humor or true satirical nuance was thrown right out the sliding glass doors when Sausage Party opened on food items singing about their faith.  Lines like, "everyone is stupid except for us," and imagining the great beyond as a place where, "we're sure nothing bad happens to food," presents faith at its most bleating obliviousness.  This might be palatable if it was funny, but I'm not now nor have I ever been in the mindset of enjoying the entry-level wordplay of food Hitler singing, "we'll exterminate the juice in the great beyond."

Sausage Party is undone by its creators indulgence in broad stereotyping.

It took four - count 'em - four screenwriters to bring this crap to life.  Did any one of them consider the implications of their kind of satire beyond what cheap jab they could make at the moment?  I think of the subplot involving Brenda's (Kristen Wiig) faith-based insecurity after she thinks she's being punished by the gods by having, "just the tip," relations with Frank (Seth Rogen).  There are lines about blind faith and the absurd restrictions on healthy sex, and that's a fine starting point, but Sausage Party constantly sides with the men.  The results in replacing one patriarchal system based in religion on another based on "rational" thought can be seen in just about any internet comments section.  It's trading oppression for oppression in different terms, and every subtle reinforcement of of the male characters of Sausage Party is another missed opportunity to deepen its satirical gaze.

Sharpening the gaze would also mean tossing large chunks of Sausage Party into a meat grinder.  One subplot, involving a Jewish and Middle Eastern stereotypes as represented by a bagel (Edward Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz), is my contender for the height of Sausage Party's moronic straight white male stance.  The bagel talks like Woody Allen and the lavash hopes for 72 virgin oils in the great beyond.  Again, this is shallow understanding of Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures (and lumping all Middle Eastern cultures into one food is a problem on its own), but exemplifying the larger problem with Sausage Party's perspective. Frank asks of their Israel/Palestine-esque conflict, "Isn't there room for both of you in the aisle? It's a big aisle."  No duh it's a big aisle, but this observation removes responsibility for the conflict from anyone meddling in the bagel and lavash's affairs from the outside.  American history is riddled with examples of fostering conflict then scavenging the remains of oil-rich fields in the Middle East, so Frank's comments are both ignorant and condescending.

But, hey, knowing that and applying it to writing requires nuance.  Pity me for thinking anyone involved in Sausage Party capable of looking beyond the straight white male's "rational" gaze.

I don't even need to get that specific in this critique to see the problem with Sausage Party.  A common, if not always applicable, truism of good comedy is that it punches up instead of punching down.  Sausage Party doesn't just punch down, it puts on steel cleats filed down to perfect sharp edges to stomp on everything it deems below its philosophy.  You may point to some late film revelations, like not being a jerk is a better way to get people on your side, but they are hollow as the male perspective of Sausage Party is always right.

The cultural riffs aren't spectacular, but produce a haunting image or two.

Sausage Party isn't completely devoid of value.  There are times when the cheap animation becomes transgressive and nearly elicited a laugh from me.  It's not in the broad cultural parodies but their aftermath.  The sight of a distraught peanut butter jar trying to scoop up the remains of its shattered jelly partner and spreading the remains on its face is a spectacular meeting of literal and symbolic images.  Then there's the ending, not the climactic fight, but what comes after.  I don't know why Sausage Party didn't push the logical implications of so many food items "mixing" together in the images, but sausage, bagel, bun, taco, and candy (to name a few) all thrust together in a dizzying display of hedonism.

That's not the images that'll linger from Sausage Party.  Instead, I'll think of the Native American liquor (voiced by decidedly not Native American Bill Hader) in a headdress, or the frequent digs at women's physical appearance with a too-often return to one woman's tight around the crotch pants.  If you want to see something troubling but still thoughtful, give Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic a shot.  Sausage Party is less nutritious than the junk foods it portrays.

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Sausage Party (2016)

Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan.
Screenplay written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg.
Featuring an ensemble cast led by Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig.

Posted by Andrew

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