Thursday, December 22, 2016

This is Why Food Hates Us

There are three kinds of hard truths; the kind you find hard to face, the kind other people find hard to face, and the kind everyone finds hard to face. 2016's Sausage Party is mainly about the second kind but it's more sensitive than you might imagine. Particularly for a movie about talking food getting massacred and mutilated. It is very funny, particularly the first half. It's funny because it's horrible.

The main character is Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog, referred to as a sausage to support the title, I guess. Maybe some people do call them sausages, I don't know, I'm a vegetarian, I don't know how you meat eaters do things. Of course, this puts me in an odd position--Wikipedia quotes Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the film, saying, "'What would it be like if our food had feelings?’ We very quickly realized that it would be fucked up.'" Well, cows and chickens and pigs do have feelings. I'm not pointing this out to be a smug prick, but because this happens to be a movie at least in part about being a smug prick.

In this reality, every item sold at the supermarket is sentient and, according to an opening number with music by Alan Menken, they all believe that when they're purchased and taken from the store, they go to a paradise called the Great Beyond. Later in the film, Frank has the task of telling everyone this is a horrible lie and that they're all doomed. When people don't want to believe this despite the evidence he produces, he calls them weak. Later when he marvels that no-one listens to him, his friend, another sausage named Barry (Michael Cera), says of course they didn't believe him because he just called them "a bunch of fucking idiots." Which was something I really appreciated after years of seeing Atheists agonise about how people can be so stupid as to believe in a magical guy in the sky. I remember when Bill Maher was a guest on Stephen Colbert's show a few months ago and he casually referred to the bible as being just a bunch of silly stories. I understand that Maher isn't concerned with offending Catholics like Colbert but he reveals either ignorance or pure belligerence when he dismisses all of Christian thought in one go. It's not merely rude, it's self-defeating, pushing people away from seeing things from his point of view. Which is exactly what happens with Frank.

But the film presents belief in the Great Beyond as merely a tale to make people feel good about dying, so it's not quite a decent analogy for the poetry and wisdom that can be found in religious teaching quite apart from any beliefs in the supernatural or ugly, intolerant imperatives. But that's one of the reasons I don't like allegory. Either everything perfectly stacks up, in which case you might as well just talk about the subject directly, or the correlation is inadequate to support an argument.

Sausage Party, in any case, is a very funny film, surprisingly inventive given that I would have thought the twisted take on talking food was a concept that had run its course on Adult Swim. But Sausage Party finds plenty of new gags, like the banana whose face falls off in a horrific war zone scene, or the awful experience of corn kernels who go undigested. The timing on all the gags is perfectly brisk and natural, these are writers and actors who truly understand the comedy of the grotesque.

Frank's relationship with the hot dug bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), also becomes funnier the sweeter it gets. It makes you feel like a perverted fourteen year old in the best way, putting just enough genuine feeling in a scene where the pair accidentally find themselves pressed against each other so that two parts of your mind, the part that thinks it's ridiculous and the part that thinks something really sexual is about to go down, correspond with each other perfectly.

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