by Julian Spivey
Director: Brandon Trost
Starring: Seth Rogen & Sarah Snook
Runtime: 1 hour & 28 minutes
The first ever HBO Max original movie “An American Pickle” has a wacky as hell premise and thus shouldn’t work. It should be dumb as hell and filled with immature slapstick and one-liners. It should be the kind of movie I would look it and go, “nah, I’m good.” I had every intention of doing so, but I watched the trailer and that intrigued me enough to give it ago on a quiet Friday night during a pandemic that has me and many others striving for any new entertainment we can find.
My god is the premise for “An American Pickle” wacky as hell – a Jewish immigrant moves to New York City and gets a job as a rodent killer in a pickle factory before falling into a vat of pickles right as the factory is being shut down and is brined for 100 years before entering this new world exactly as he had been a century before.
It’s a fish-out-of-water tale written by Simon Rich, based on a short story of his, and is his first movie script. Directed by Brandon Trost (in his solo directorial debut), “An American Pickle” stars Seth Rogen in a dual role as Herschel Greenbaum, the immigrant who gets brined, and his great grandson Ben (his only living relative).
What really makes the movie work for me is it being a “man out of his time” story and the realization that if any of us where ever essentially frozen in time as Herschel was we’d have an extremely hard time adapting to life a century later. We’d probably end up being “canceled” quite quickly.
The movie also works for me in that it doesn’t even remotely try to explain its premise, it just gives it to us. There is no attempt whatsoever to give us the science behind how a man could fall into a vat of pickles and be preserved for 100 years. That would’ve bogged the movie down too much and really would’ve made us wallow in how weird of a premise it is.
Ben is a freelance app developer who isn’t really living up to his potential because he’s too scared to fail. Herschel tries to get Ben to finally sell his app, but inadvertently destroys any success his app (which allows a consumer to scan a barcode and tells them how ethical the company behind the product is) when he gets the both of them arrested while assaulting a construction crew putting up an ad for a Russian vodka company (his community in his homeland was destroyed by Russian Cossacks) over the grave of his deceased wife.
Ben disowns Herschel, but Herschel’s hardworking can-do attitude leads him to find success doing what he knows how to do best – making pickles. Ben grows jealous of his great grandfather and comes up with a plan to destroy Herschel by outing his now controversial views on certain things that were common views a century before. If there is one negative about “An American Pickle” for me it’s this run of the film that drags a bit while the two are feuding.
The best part of “An American Pickle” is the dual performance from Rogen, who’s essentially the entire movie, except for the opening scene in whish Sarah Snook portrays his wife a century ago. I can’t imagine how much work it was for Rogen and director Trost to film this movie with Rogen constantly having to act opposite of a stand-in.
What’s most surprising about the film and Rogen’s performance is how downplayed it is – it’s not at all slapsticky and vulgar as one might expect from a Rogen film – but heartwarming. It’s nice to see this kind of performance from Rogen and I sincerely hope it’s something we see more of from him in the future.