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An American Pickle

With theaters still shuddered, major productions continue to be released directly via streaming services. July saw the Tom Hank’s high-seas thriller GREYHOUND premiere on Apple Plus TV, and in August, another heavyweight, Seth Rogen, had his latest vehicle, AN AMERICAN PICKLE, debut on the new HBO Max.

Life isn’t easy in 1919 for the ditch digging Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen.) Trudging his way through slop, day after day, he has very little in the ways of joy and comfort. When he sees the lovely Sarah (SUCCESSION’s Sarah Snook) haggle to buy a fish (which she then promptly bites the head off of) it is love at first sight. After a tender courtship, the two are married and seem destined for happiness. In hopes of building a better life for them, Herschel gets a job in a pickle factory. While there, it is his job to bludgeon a bar-rage of rats, earning a commission on each rodent he ravages. One fateful day, however, the rats revolt, taking matters into their own paws, and move to swarm him while he is on a catwalk. Herschel plummets off the ledge and into a vat of pickles. At that exact moment, the vat is sealed, the factory is shut-down, and Herschel is trapped.

Flash forward 100 years. Life still isn’t easy, but there have certainly been some technological advances. After a group of boys accidentally fly their drone into the abandoned factory, they stumble upon Herschel’s vat. They open the lid, and soon thereafter, Herschel is a cultural phenomenon.

The brine that Herschel bathed in perfectly preserved him for the past century, and he wakes up without having aged a day. Sarah passed long ago, and the only surviving relative in his family tree is his great-grandson, Ben (Rogen, again.) Ben is stoked to learn that his great-grandpa is still alive, and even more blown away by the fact that the two of them are basically the same age. He immediately begins introducing Herschel to the modern world. And, while things go well at first, before long the generational gap, along with Herschel’s turn-of-the-century beliefs, causes a rift in the relationship.

Given the film’s premise and its star, one would expect AN AMERICAN PICKLE to be shocking and outlandish. The most shocking thing about it, though, is how subdued it is. Punchlines revolving around politics and porn are nowhere to be found, and to my utter amazement, I don’t think there was a single marijuana joke. If there was, it was fleeting, and not a standard plot device that seems almost obligatory for all Rogen ventures at this point. Instead, you have a comedy that is more about family, adaptation, and acceptance.

Rogen’s performance is fantastic, and the effects are fairly flawless. It genuinely appears that both iterations of the star in the same room with another, and he embodies two distinct, wildly different individuals conversing with one another. The problem is, as great as he is, neither one of the characters is particularly likable. Herschel is gruff and opinionated, married to antiquated beliefs that make him inept at social graces and sensitivities. While this is to be expected and often played excellently for laughs, there is never really the growth as an individual that you would expect to see. Ben, devastated by loss, grief, and a fear of failure, is distant and jealous. Though initial interactions lead us to believe that Ben will help Herschel navigate the perils of the future, he eventually emerges as cold, vindictive, and spiteful. Ben, perhaps, possesses the ability to change, but it takes him way too long to get there.

AN AMERICAN PICKLE may not have the same tone and style of the majority of Rogen’s other vehicles like SUPERBAD, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, or KNOCKED UP, but it is not without its laughs. There are multiple jokes and bits that are laugh-out-loud funny, while others are at least humorous enough to justify their existence. It’s not all based on over-the-top fish-out-of-water absurdity, which it easily could have devolved into. Instead, it’s more thoughtful and introspective than expected. While this may not always work within the confines of the film, credit should be given for trying to elevate the production beyond the expected punchlines and scenarios. 

AN AMERICAN PICKLE
GRADE: B-

RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 1h 28min
GENRE: Comedy
STARRING: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen
DIRECTORS: Brandon Trost
WRITERS: Simon Rich

(Now available on HBO Max)

 

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.