No one needs to be told that we currently live in an era supposedly, according to some, dominated by the often derogatorily named social justice warriors and general PC culture; just take a look at Clint Eastwood’s recent comments about this “pussy” generation. Even if that’s the case, it seems it still takes a lot to offend us when it comes to film. Just three decades ago, parents were picketing the release of sleazy slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night for depicting Santa Claus as an axe murderer, thereby frightening and perverting the innocence of children. Now, movies like A Serbian Film fascinate, if also perturb us in spite of their boundary-pushing content.
Why are we so accepting of films meant to push our buttons? Is it because our society has become progressively more liberal with such things? Could be. Could it be that after all of this time – more than a century of artists constantly testing the limits in cinema – we’ve seen all there is to see? Perhaps so. Could it be that most filmmakers who set out with these intentions are responsible enough to treat their chosen subject matter delicately while remaining as perverse as possible, and that they’re most of the people getting coverage? Just maybe; nowadays, whitewashing is the most prevalent topic of discussion when it comes to filmmakers that have crossed the line in the wrong way.
Enter Sausage Party, the latest offering from dynamic comedy duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. In case you weren’t aware, the film is an animated sex comedy about anthropomorphized foodstuffs facing the realization that humans take them home for their deaths. If you somehow weren’t previously familiar with this film, I’ll give you a second to sit back and digest all of this. Terrible food puns aside – there are more to come – how does Sausage Party build itself an intentionally provocative comedy, beyond its obvious title and posters, of course?
We’re told that there are two topics of discussion to avoid like the plague when meeting someone new: religion and politics. Especially concerning the former, Sausage Party tackles both head on, and represents a conversation we should be having, and yet somehow aren’t. From the start, during its delightfully bewildering opening musical scene, Sausage Party is completely transparent in its ambitions. Various food and drink sing of the Gods’ (humans) glory, hoping to be chosen for the Great Beyond (self-explanatory), and the movie makes no bones about where it’s headed.
Religion is an understandably touchy subject for many, and it’s imperative that all sides of the equation – the devout, the agnostics and the atheists – recognize all beliefs without resorting to insults and questioning the other’s intelligence. A select few from the extremes are guiltier of this than others, and yet, even though a majority of folks from all sides are mature enough to let others believe what they want, religion remains a contentious issue and discussion about tolerance is often cast by the wayside as alleged common sense and courtesy.
To that end, what does it say about our current culture, if anything, that Rogen, Goldberg and Co. – people responsible for bro humor offerings like Neighbors and Pineapple Express – are more willing to start such a discourse than most? Nonetheless, the fact that all involved with Sausage Party are committed to a message of tolerance is thoroughly commendable, especially when so few are willing to have it. Though ironically, for a film that preaches against the destructiveness of preachy, cram-it-down-your-throat rhetoric, its message can come across as heavy-handed for some – though this won’t be much of an issue for most.
The success of Sausage Party comes down to the effectiveness of its humor and its most gleefully offensive morsels. Perhaps disappointingly so, most of the script’s material falls under ‘generally amusing’ rather than genuinely shocking, reserving its most clever, most subversive bits for punctuation throughout the narrative. These moments may be decently spaced out and few in number, but when they arrive, they hit hard. Additionally, these moments range from the gut-bustingly provocative to the surprisingly disturbing. The opening musical number and the random, non-organic food orgy fall under the former, whereas scenes like one that boils down to rape and murder occupy the latter.
Either way, Sausage Party accomplishes what it sets out to do and creates an expectedly heartfelt narrative, even if the comedic structure and most of its material leaves something to be desired. The film’s pacing issues only exacerbate this issue further. Clocking in at 89 minutes, one would expect a brisk affair, especially because it’s a comedy, but the opening act is surprisingly sluggish in spite of its entertainment value. Sooner or later, its pedestrian progression from one punchline to another eventually finds its feet near the narrative’s midpoint. The latter half represents a more assured effort from the crew, including an enthralling climax pitting the created against the creators.
Perhaps the pacing and the humor that drives it indicate a larger issue that Sausage Party isn’t at fault for. Since the success of The 40 Year Old Virgin over a decade ago – let that one sink in – personalities like Rogen, Jonah Hill and their other collaborators have been the reigning kings of Hollywood comedy. Addressing topics like sex, sexuality and drugs with a raunchier flavor, as well as heart, than most of its predecessors, these comedies represented the next evolution in prevailing audience tastes. A decade of prominence in the public eye, however, has berthed familiarity along with box office gold, and at this rate, even with a film like Sausage Party, these comedians have overplayed their hand, if not yet overstayed their welcome.
Even if they aren’t as fresh as they once were, these comedians can still put together some agreeable entertainment – an odd point of praise for Sausage Party, a film so predicated on abrasive and confrontational shock value. Seth Rogen says that the crew has much more in mind for an impending Sausage Party 2, and given the film’s current box office numbers, a sequel is all but certain. Hopefully, by that time, these creators haven’t completely passed their sell-by date.