Movie Review: “Sausage Party”

SAPTY_DOM_DIGITAL_12.inddSausage Party is the first movie I’ve seen to successfully be its own porn parody…and that is not a complaint. It may sound preposterous to say that this is an important movie, but it is. If you can’t imagine why a seemingly serious site like Escape From Ignorance would review a filthy, foul-mouthed cartoon about talking wieners, then you have dramatically underestimated Seth Rogen and his merry band. This movie is a minor miracle, because it has found a way to deliver a profound message of tolerance and skepticism to an audience who would never pick up a book that advertised those themes. This is comedy and satire at its conceptual best; using shocking humor and juvenile irreverence to drive its adult ideas.

Let’s be clear: This is a movie about losing faith, confronting the cruel realities of a godless world, and realizing that most of what we obsess over in this life is meaningless. The movie tackles this journey with a surprising sophistication despite the endless parade of profanity, tasteless sex jokes, and offensive ethnic stereotypes.

Spoilers to follow. I detest reviews that recap the plot to me, so I won’t be doing that here. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’ve already seen the movie or you know the basic plot and don’t care about spoilers.

The movie is catching a lot of flack for its supposed sexism and racism, but these critiques massively miss the point. This is a film that is preaching tolerance and love, using some of our worst instincts as examples of what not to do. The ethnic depictions are ripped from the package designs of food items in the ethnic aisles of any grocery store, so if you are offended by them, the problem is not this movie. I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made that the presentation of ethnic food in American supermarkets is troubling and it would be lovely if this movie ignited that conversation, but attacking the movie is just proof that the attackers don’t understand what they saw. I would also point out that the line between stereotype and cultural heritage can sometimes be blurry. What strikes one person as a sincere representation of their cultural eccentricities can strike another person from the same culture as a hopelessly offensive caricature. My point is that some people will be offended if you make no attempt whatsoever to differentiate between ethnicities, and other people will be offended by any form of differentiation. The crucial thing to me is that none of it felt like it was intended in a hateful or mean-spirited way.

Seth Rogen has stated in interviews that they agonized over every ethnic joke and tried to get feedback from appropriate sources.  I think they succeeded in pushing the boundaries without being legitimately offensive, but your mileage may vary.

The sexism critiques are somewhat more baffling to me. At no point is any female character shown to be incapable or inferior because of their gender. The female characters do not exist purely to play subordinate roles to the male characters. Those are the two most destructive manifestations of sexism in film, and they are not present in this movie. I think the complaints are purely due to the fact that the two lead female characters are highly sexualized, but that is a separate issue. Both characters are just as developed as any of the male characters. They have their own personalities and arcs. Sexualization alone is not a negative, especially in a movie where the whole plot revolves around the main characters trying to have sex for the first time. We are all sexual creatures who enjoy seeing sexualized members of the gender we are attracted to. Sexism with regard to this issue happens when someone is sexualized against their wishes or reduced to nothing but sexualization when they have more to offer. It’s a very real, horrible problem in real life, but I don’t think this movie features it or contributes to it.

I think the problem is simply that we have such a culturally unhealthy view of sex, with so much institutional sexism, that any depiction of female characters in a sexual capacity is going to piss someone off.  In many, many cases that anger may be justified, but I do not think this movie is one of them.  (If you want to recoil at some real sexism in animation, look no further than the awful animated adaptation of The Killing Joke released by Warner Brothers this year. The deeply misguided use of Batgirl in that movie deserves all the anger.)

The real meat of the movie (I had to throw in at least one food pun) is the eternal conflict between blind faith and evidence-based reason. What truly surprised me is the balanced and compassionate way the movie tackles faith.  As a secular advocate, I often see non-religious people attack the faithful with no regard for the emotional well-being that faith can provide. This movie shows how people can be much happier believing in a joyous afterlife than confronting the ugly reality of our mortality. The script makes the point that atheism, or at least skepticism, is indeed the most enlightened perspective to have, but also shows that there is no latent harm in believing a nonsensical fairy tale if it makes you happy. The problems only start if people let their fairy tales lead them to take hateful actions against other people just because they chose a different fairy tale.

I wish the overall scene-to-scene writing was at the same level of quality as the thematics. There is no doubt the humor is hit-or-miss and occasionally nosedives into outright stupidity, but these idiotic moments are balanced out with some truly inspired jokes and some solid character work. They get full use out of the premise and it’s exactly as long as it needs to be.

The orgy during the finale that has everyone talking was surprisingly sweet and kind of cute. It was much more an embrace of hedonism than the gross-out I was expecting. The underlying message, that maybe people should just be allowed to fuck however they want since we’re all going to die anyway, is something that our world desperately needs to hear right now. A whole generation of young people who have been raised in restrictive, faith-based cultures without giving it much thought will flock to this movie for the wiener jokes…and may just come away questioning everything they believe. I can think of no greater contribution a movie could make in our endless quest to escape from ignorance.

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