Let’s Watch: An American Pickle
An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen, is an adaptation of the book “Sell Out” by Simon Rich. Rogen was coming off a roller coaster of movie projects with the acclaimed “Long Shot”, straight to “The Lion King”, and shortly after into the largely negatively reviewed “Zeroville” with his buddy James Franco, naturally I was curious as to what his next project would look like. The adaptation was written by Simon Rich, whose previous experience included “Inside Out”, “Saturday Night Live”, and “Man Seeking Woman”, and debuting as a director Brandon Trost, whose earlier work as a cinematographer in Neighbours, The Interview, That’s My Boy, This Is The End and other comedies I thoroughly enjoyed.
The movie tells the story of Herschel, a ditch digger from western europe who escapes his country in search of a new life, and decides to move to New York City, where he finds himself working in a pickle factory in Brooklyn. A freakish accident that looked fatal happens, but instead of dying Herschel is preserved for 100 years in the brine of the pickle. Once he’s rescued he faces the immense changes of the last century, and to help him navigate those changes he depends on his last relative alive, his great great-grandson Ben Greenbaum. With Seth Rogen playing both the great great-grandson and the great great-grandfather, exploring the conflict between the modern zeitgeist and a man displaced in time was guaranteed to open up endless comedic possibilities. It did, but it felt underutilized.
The central themes that are explored in the movie are actually great, and if you really, REALLY, try to find some reflections and criticism on our society you can. These are the subjects that I recognized were explored throughout the movie: the “American Dream”, heritage, love, breaking tradition, empowerment, how the measurement of wealth and power changed, bigotry, cancel culture, hipsters, the organic/artisanal cultural obsession, and politics. Running at ninety-minutes, tackling all those topics looked impossible, and it was. The movie tries doing too much, as a consequence it feels rushed and extremely convoluted. As the story bounces around every imaginable place in the book at breakneck speed, your attention span will surely be tested, but will ultimately go unrewarded.
Seth Rogen has had his fair share of success acting and writing comedy throughout the years, An American Pickle didn’t capture some of the magic of his other titles like Superbad, and Pineapple Express, and it’s hard to know how much input he had in the screenplay, but it doesn’t feel like Rogen. On the acting side of things he plays Herschel Greenbaum with such a thick and heavy accent, that it is actually distracting, nonetheless Herschel as a character is well portrayed as a hard working, endearing, DIY, loving husband and great great-grandfather. Rogen does capture the displaced man vibe, the protagonist anchors the movie down, and most of the plot is carried by the empathy that we can see/feel through Herschel’s eyes. Ben Greenbaum the great great-grandson, is an app developer and just your average guy in New York City, it felt like Seth Rogen was playing Seth Rogen, and the characters best moments come at the expense of the foundation laid by the family ties.
An American Pickle is at its best when it slows downs enough to approach its many topics in a well-paced manner. The origin story of the Greenbaum's and later the second pursuit of the american dream, are home to the heart-warming and rare funny moments of this movie. It is harder to watch once those glimpses of what the movie could’ve been, if it had left itself some room to breathe, shine through.
Although movies about the man out of time are not original by any means, this one is what happens when an excessive amount of topics and ideas is thrown into a blender and you’re challenged to chug it in ninety-minutes. In the end, this movie is the equivalent of shotgunning a beer, as in the beer might be good if you take the time to appreciate it, but shotgunning it will leave you bloated, proud it ended, and unsure if it was a beer at all.
An American Pickle is available on HBO Max.
Special thanks to Felipe Riera, who cosplays as my editor.