An American Pickle (2020): Review

HBO Max gets it’s first original movie release by way of An American Pickle, in which we see Seth Rogen playing the dual roles of both Herschel Greenbaum, a tough get-it-done Jewish migrant living in 1919 Poland, and his great grandson Ben, a modern day aspiring app developer based in Brooklyn, USA.

The thing that I enjoy, probably most about Seth Rogen vehicles is having to explain the plot of the films themselves. Here goes.

An American Pickle follows Herschel in 1919 Poland. A simple man in a simple town, he spends his days labouring, shovelling away. After wooing the love of his life he lands a job in the local pickle factory with the sole purpose of raising the funds required to purchase two graves, side by side for when they eventually pass on. Cute. Herschel’s job at the factory sees him whack-a-moleing as many rats as humanly possible, a primitive health and safety measure if you will. One day he becomes overwhelmed by an infestation of rodents and in his attempt to flee, falls into a vat of pickle brine. The building is later condemned but poor Herschel lays trapped in the salty substance where he wakes up 100 years later.

It’s as if Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland and Seth Rogen all met up and after a heavy night of marijuana infused partying, came up with the premise for An American Pickle. Rick Sanchez would be proud.

The film kicks off the funnies for real for real when Herschel wakes in 2019, Brooklyn. After discovering he has a single living relative he sets off to find him; meet Ben Greenbaum. Not exactly the shining descendant of their bloodline that Herschel had imagined, Ben is a ‘lazier’ technophile and a little bit of a sissy. The movie uses this ‘old vs new’ premise as the foundation for all the humour and it mostly lands. There’s a ton of subliminal stuff happening here, a lot of religious musings where I suppose (I don’t know) Seth Rogen is channeling his personal religious experiences growing up as a Jewish American and no doubt the impact that had upon him, there’s often a disconnect between generations when it comes to religious views and their value to us in modern society; the film makes it funny rather than offensive, carefully avoiding a potential boycott from the more sensitive of society. Although I doubt he’d care much if it did to be honest.

Driven by his desire to remove a ‘Cossack’ billboard from a gravesite, Herschel gets to work making pickles and they become an instant hit. Word gets around and he is propelled to moderate fame, much to grandson Ben’s displeasure. Envy sets in as feud after feud ensues, we watch these distant relatives battle out to reign supreme over the other in increasingly hilarious ways. Ben manipulates Herschel by teasing him to engage in activities where he knows his outdated perceptions will land him in trouble with the cancel culture of today. Like Twitter for example. It all makes for a consistent, more often than not humorous affair. There’s an emotional mildness at the centre too, offering up some more tender, sweet moments to help balance all the sourness of the film’s bite.

Verdict

An American pickle, while not his best, is another consistently funny effort from Seth Rogen. He digs a little deeper than usual in playing dual roles and anchoring the film’s more sensitive side. The generational divide between the two characters makes for some hilarious scenarios, poignant underlying themes and some more tender moments too. Jarring for some but for everyone else it’s sure to be dill-ightful.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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