Sausage Party, a film by Gret Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. With Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek. ***
What a cast, right? Five Oscar nominees in one movie. Unfortunately, it’s an animated film about food products in the supermarket. The voices are great. But the cast doesn’t show its stuff.
Apparently this was an idea of Seth Rogen’s since 2007. He and Jonah Hill have been joking about it ever since. When asked what their next project was going to be, they said it was called Sausage Party. Rogen was clear on his idea. But it’s taken all these years to get a studio to accept it.
The problem is that it’s an x-rated cartoon. In terms of dialogue, it’s one of the filthiest movies ever. Apparently the trailer was mistakenly shown before a showing of Finding Dory at a theater in California, “horrifying young audiences” (I would guess it was their parents who were horrified). It’s also one of the most politically incorrect movies around. You go to this movie and assume everyone else in the theater knowingly came, so you can laugh your head off at the political incorrectness. The Native American character is a bottle of booze named Firewater. Selma Hayek plays a sexy taco shell. Black actor Craig Robinson is a box of grits.
The plot revolves around the fact that the products in a supermarket believe the place where they live is “the world,” and everything outside is “the great beyond.” The people who come shopping for them are gods, and after these products are bought they will go off with the gods and live happily ever after. But Honey Mustard (I guess I should issue a spoiler alert here) is mistakenly bought by someone who wanted Spicy Mustard, and comes back to let people know that the Great Beyond is not what they thought. Then a whole bag of groceries goes out and sees what really happens. A banana is peeled and eaten! A potato is viciously peeled with a peeler and thrown in a pot of bowling water! A hot dog is sliced in half (the way they used to cook them at Petroff’s in Cape May, New Jersey, slicing hot dogs in half and frying them on a grill)! It’s a holocaust.
Apparently it was Firewater—our Native American friend—who started the rumor in the first place. He saw that the foods were unhappy waiting to be bought, and created this legend so their lives in the supermarket would at least be hopeful. He gives this news to Frank (a weiner) while smoking some “bath salts” with him and a black dude box of grits. The bath salts help them drop the “veil of illusion.”
As far as I’m concerned, a good comedy is one that makes you laugh, and I laughed all the way through this one, at least when I could understand what people were saying. The dialogue is inventive, filthily funny, and includes all kinds of movie references. “They call me Mr. Grits.” “Perhaps I can be of some assistance.” Sausage Party is a guilty pleasure, where you drop all your political correctness and laugh at the ethnic and dirty jokes and get that out of your system. Then you can go back to being a responsible adult.
You hope the creators of this piece of filthy fluff don’t think they were doing something serious, like a satire about religion. A. O. Scott, a critic I normally respect, seems to have taken it somewhat seriously, finding “nuanced meditations on theology and faith.” Nuanced to whom? Seth Rogen? It doesn’t help that many people in the cast were in a film called This Is the End, which I didn’t see but which has a similarly apocalyptic theme. Do they think they’re tearing aside the veil of illusion for the rest of us by showing us that religion isn’t true? It was all a story created to make people feel better?
I bring the question up because these actors, as a group, seem devoted to superficiality and to prolonging adolescence as long as possible, preferably forever. They make one movie after another about the funny and talented and smart guys who can’t pull the trigger on being adults. In the meantime, the actors themselves get older and older. They’re talented and funny and have potty mouths and know the history of cinema. They’re good filmmakers technically. But they don’t have anything to say. I include people like Quentin Tarantino and Seth MacFarlane. They’re talented people who have produced technically successful work but haven’t enriched our culture at all, because they refuse to look at life deeply. They’re dressed up in talent but have no place to go. In any case, they go no place.
Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I’m asking a filmmaker to make the movie I wanted, rather than one he wanted. But being a comic writer doesn’t mean you’re not serious. Samuel Beckett was a comic writer. There’s something more to comedy than seeing how many different ways you can make your characters say fuck.
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