Published Aug 11, 2016Sausage Party begins as it means to go on. As supermarket Shopwell's is set to open every morning, the food — from the ears of corn to the mustard — sings a storewide musical number titled "The Great Beyond," a paean to the glory they believe awaits them after being purchased and brought home by humans. The existentialist/atheist theme of the film is foreshadowed strongly and hilariously in the song; to the food, humans are gods, and their faith that there is "nothing shitty" on the other side is unshakeable.
Frank the wiener (Seth Rogen) and Brenda the hotdog bun (Kristen Wiig) are among the faithful, so they're thrilled when a shopper confirms their belief they're meant to be together by putting both of their respective packages in her cart. The joy is short-lived; too terrified to face again what he's already faced once, a jar of honey mustard who's seen the other side and been returned to the store threatens to hurl himself off the cart's edge, and when Frank tries to save him by escaping his bag, he, Brenda and a number of other foodstuffs are tossed to the floor. Frank and Brenda survive, but others aren't so lucky. Food guts and gore — noodles pouring out of a can's middle, a tub of peanut butter weeping over his wife, a shattered, bloody mess of jam — are splayed across the supermarket tile.
While Frank's wiener friends Barry, Carl and others are taken home to discover the barbarity that is food consumption, he and Brenda learn the truth — that the "gods" want to destroy them and life has no meaning — from the inside. How Frank eventually gets to the truth makes up the crux of the film's plot, so I won't spoil it here, but it ends with the simplistic yet life-affirming revelation that the Great Beyond (heaven — get it?) they were all yearning for was "right in front of" the food the whole time.
The pacing here is excellent, and there are a handful of scenes that are absolutely sidesplitting. A decapitated human head near the film's end yields macabre laughs, but Sausage Party's highly anticipated, incredibly raunchy orgy scene is the film's crowning achievement. The climactic scene is a visual, colourful, sexual riot, releasing all of the film's tension in one fell swoop as the foods engage in shockingly deviant and utterly inventive sexual practices and positions. It's hysterical.
Elsewhere, there are food jokes and puns galore, and they work particularly well in the wide-open context of the outside world. When Barry escapes his death and makes it to the house of a bath salts-indulging waste case, he has run-ins with a number of grocery store items in various degrees of anguish. (It's hard to say who has it worse: the corn niblets, the toilet paper or the condom.)
In the store, the jokes are a little more leaden. A number of food idioms used accidentally by a (literal and metaphorical) douche are funny — "How do you like them apples?" he asks; "Who, us?" replies a crate of apples within earshot — and get even better as the film continues, but though a relationship between the stereotypically Muslim lavash bread and stereotypically Jewish bagel eventually resolves playfully, the writers' insistence on racializing almost the entire grocery store eventually yields jokes that feel tired at best, and harmful at worst: German sauerkraut hating "Juice" is one thing, but characterizing the Mexican foods as "illegal ingredients" and a Native American as a bottle of "firewater" (played, bafflingly, by Bill Hader) is so needlessly repugnant that it ruins those characters' scenes.
That the orgy scene comes after the majority of these off-putting moments provides something of a distraction, but a bad aftertaste still lingers at the film's end. It's unfortunate, because a film this self-aware — the bath salts act as something of a Rosetta Stone, providing a nice bit of self-reference, while a neat little plot twist at the film's end breaks the fourth wall in a surprising way — should be able to handle all of its edgier subject matter deftly.
Sausage Party is funny, exhilaratingly paced and nimble — why give it such stupid, clumsy crutches?