An American Pickle, 2020.
Directed by Brandon Trost.
Starring Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Maya Erskine, and Jorma Taccone.
An immigrant worker at a pickle factory is accidentally preserved for 100 years and wakes up in modern day Brooklyn.
For those that thought one Seth Rogen was not enough, An American Pickle goes a step beyond providing two central characters played by the same actor in one movie; it’s basically an entire movie where they are the only two characters. There are still small roles whenever needed to further push the plot along, but this is essentially a preposterous comedy where Seth Rogen and Seth Rogen go from reunited relatives to sworn enemies in the most unbelievably absurd of fashions.
That’s also the point, as An American Pickle leaps right into irreverent humor and ludicrous situations. Living somewhere in Eastern Europe, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) quickly goes from ditch digger to married man chasing the American dream with his wife (briefly played by Sarah Snook) relocating to Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Her greatest wish is to have a plot of land purchased to one day be buried next to one another, whereas Herschel has simpler ambitions and would love to try some seltzer water one day. Nevertheless, the American dream is cut short when, working at the pickle factory, Herschel falls into a vat of the liquid and is somehow preserved for the next hundred years. That’s not even the silliest part, considering the factory immediately is closed down right as Herschel becomes trapped with a lid placed over the pickle brine.
Discovered by a pair of children in the current day, Herschel is a fish-out-of-water as doctors run all sorts of tests on him before deeming him healthy and setting him loose into an unknown world. They do also give him the whereabouts of his only living relative, great-grandson Ben (also Seth Rogen, the beardless non-European sounding version that is his counterpart here) living alone in an apartment desperately trying to get a mobile app off of the ground that scans the moral ethics of various companies before consumers purchase their products.
Naturally, humor comes from Ben attempting to teach Herschel the ways of the 21st century, who is not only obviously technologically illiterate but also has a penchant for saying inappropriate or outdated things not knowing any better. They are also at odds when it comes to religion, family, and work, eventually turning the two into bitter rivals. Herschel becomes an entrepreneur selling his own pickles off the street as Ben continues to refine his digital service in hopes of finding a buyer (something that proves to be more difficult than necessary factoring in Herschel’s love for “doing violence” on anyone that is remotely associated with Cossacks and being guilty by association.)
From a narrative standpoint, that’s really all one needs to know. For the remaining hour or so (the movie is barely 80 minutes without credits, yet somehow feels nearly 2 hours given that director Brandon Trost and Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich have taken the latter’s short story and somehow overstuffed and overextended the premise) Ben goes about different ways to sabotage Herschel’s growing business. He’s jealous that an idea he saw as stupid has gone viral, but the amusement comes from watching this out-of-touch by a century Jewish man fail at interacting with society, only to succeed anyway. It’s clearly meant to be a parallel to real-world companies (the toxicity of Twitter actually becomes a plot point and makes for the funniest stretch of the movie) and a satire. The problem is that those elements are weighed down by tonal whiplash, whether it comes from serious dialogue exchanges or a dramatic score.
An American Pickle simply tries to hit some emotional beats that are impossible considering the ridiculousness of everything happening along the way. The final 15 minutes resolve the story trying to make a point about family, which is actually not a bad idea, but it’s done so under conditions that are so far removed from engageable storytelling. The random shifts into seriousness actually hurt some of the comedic moments, that unfortunately never really take off making the movie as funny as it feels it should be. I will say that the digital effects utilized to realize two Seth Rogen’s on-screen at once is surprisingly not distracting (although you are going to be getting an overabundance of shot reverse shot here), and that when the film is focused on these two one-on-one with each other generating laughs, An American Pickle is entertaining. It’s just also too dumb for its own good and fails at presenting any meaningful social commentary from that stupidity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com