Recommendation: A solid high concept, multi-genre original vehicle. In a summer devoid of much of anything, An American Pickle serves up a bit of entertainment. 7/10.
IMDB Synopsis: An immigrant worker at a pickle factory is accidentally preserved for 100 years and wakes up in modern day Brooklyn.
An American Pickle is weird. A melange of an immigrant story, a fish out of water tale, a buddy satire, a Jewish story, and ultimately, a family film with a timely message. High concept doesn’t begin to explain Pickle, which features a solid amount of absurdist humor—and suspension of disbelief—that you’d expect from a Seth Rogen vehicle, yet also shows a surprising amount of heart, wit, and teeth. And in a release year as weird as 2020, sometimes genre-bending, weird film experiences are just what we need.
Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) is your prototypical Eastern European, poor, proud, Jewish movie archetype. From the fictional country of Schlupsk, Herschel and his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) leave their poverty for New York to build their children’s children a better life. Unfortunately, in 1920, Herschel falls into a giant pickle barrel where he works and is perfectly preserved in the brine, only to emerge 100 years later to a very different Brooklyn. His only living descendant is Ben Greenbaum (also Rogen), your stereotypical hip app developer in Brooklyn complete with way-too-large NYC apartment.
The first part of the film is dedicated to Herschel’s fish out of water experience in the 21st century. Awed technology, impressed by Ben’s completely normal level of consumerism—particularly his Soda Stream—and unable to let go of his prejudices, particularly with the Cossacks. Rogen plays the elder Greenbaum with a believable degree of wide eyed-ness and healthy skepticism. After the natural honeymoon period, things go off the rails for the duo. Without spoiling the satirical chunk of the film, it involves Herschel’s homemade pickle business, Twitter rants, angry mobs, a failed pitch, and eventual deportation. It’s quite the turn for the film, that shifts radically from the act prior.
The aforementioned section of the film could have certainly derailed the film if not for its heartfelt and redemptive final act. While the prior section took an unexpected turn, the final scenes are comforting and bring satisfactory closure. Whether a pre-WWII pickle worker or a modern Brooklynite, the film’s core ideas shine through: It’s ok to be vulnerable, asking for help is not weak, family is essential, work hard to achieve your dreams, and oh, the Cossacks are still bad. By film’s end, you’ve given yourself over to the Greenbaum men, rooting for them despite the pettiness and bickering prior. But that’s family, and An American Pickle reiterates that blood is thicker than water… and pickle brine.
Find it here on HBO.
MVP: Rogen is deft at playing both roles, making them seem different from one another, still still distantly familiar.
Highlights: The silly, “organic” pickle creation montage is a blast. Jorma Taccone plays a pitch perfect tech bro cameo. Sarah Snook’s small amount of screen time is still a gift.
Director: Brandon Trost
Studio: Sony Pictures Release date: August 6, 2020