AN AMERICAN PICKLE Review
Throwing away the stoner jokes and memorabilia for a brief cinematic moment, Seth Rogen, acclaimed comedic actor and world renowned guffaw-ist, finds himself in a pickle. AN AMERICAN PICKLE to be exact. Putting on a one-man, two-part performance, Rogen and his team concoct a small-scale, big heart story about a family reunion 100 years in the making.
Directed with overall unassuming professionalism from frequent Rogen film cinematographer Brandon Trost, and written by Simon Rich (based off a short story written by Rich as well), AN AMERICAN PICKLE starts off with the back-breaking life of Jewish laborer Herschel Greenbaum, played by a bearded and thick-accented Rogen, working his life away in some small town in Europe in the year of 1919. In these first scenes that are equally pleasant and eccentric (thanks to some old fashioned aspect ratio changes and cinematography), Herschel meets the woman of his life in the rough and tumble Sarah (Sarah Snook, shamefully given a glorified cameo), marries her, sees their hometown get sacked by raging Cossacks, immigrate to America (Brooklyn, to be exact), and overall settle down for a humble, yet loving life. However, life gets stranger for Herschel after he falls into a vat of pickle brine at his lowly job at a pickle factory, which leads to the poor schmuck being preserved for 100 years, with life and loved ones passing him by.
Nevertheless, Herschel is discovered in his briny sarcophagus and soon quickly thrown out into our modern society in the year of 2019 (thank God, it wasn’t 2020). From there, Herschel is introduced to his great, great-grandson, Ben, played by a clean shaven and normal sounding Rogen, who takes Herschel in and decides to show the old timer how much things have changed. Of course, being a man literally out of time, Herschel and Ben experience many hijinks and quarrel with one another throughout AN AMERICAN PICKLE learning many things about the troubles of social media, mortality, sales tactics regarding organic pickles, and of course, the importance of family.
One of the more apparent surprises (and a potential low point for some viewers) is the fact that this film isn’t really like any of Seth Rogen’s other outputs, turning out to be a much more casual and mature (relatively speaking) movie between two Rogens. As potentially annoying or awesome as that sounds, the film hovers somewhere in the middle, as Rogen plays both characters with impressive humanity, particularly in regards to the more comic character that is Herschel. The film and Rogen both acknowledge the trials of time travel and their darker consequences and do a relatively impactful job at addressing the loss that Herschel must deal with. Even in the more “straight man” role of Ben, Rogen and co. imbue your typical passive millennial with strings of loss and regret as time passes by them slowly. In the moments where the film draws comparisons of these two men and their approaches to life; Herschel with his much more aggressive pursuit of creating a Greenbaum legacy and Ben with his much more laid back quest to creating his ethics-driven app, makes for some interesting moments in a comedy film about a man frozen in pickle brine.
However, being based off a short story, one can feel that there was only so much that the filmmakers could work with and indeed, despite being only 90 minutes, AN AMERICAN PICKLE feels like it’s looking around for more plot. When not dealing with Herschel and Ben’s differences and relationship, the film attempts to take a satiric look at the current America with its hipsters and constant barrage of social media attacks and for the most part, these moments fall flat mainly because they feel dated. If you’ve seen one joke about hipsters paying out the ass for overpriced garbage, then you’ve seen them all and overall, this film’s humor and satiric targets mostly land between “chuckle-worthy” and “forgettable”. As a result, the film’s story hits some lulls and pacing issues as it eventually rotates back around to central relationship of the two Seths ending on a sweet note.
Overall, AN AMERICAN PICKLE is a nice and slight departure from your typical Rogen film as, despite its kooky set-up, rides on the tale of two lost family members finding solace with one another in this big, strange world of ours. While never laugh out loud funny or super thought-provoking, I think I’m fully confident that everyone will enjoy Rogen’s accent here, and sometimes its the little things that make some movies stick out.