Starring Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone
Austin Family Critical Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brandon Trost’s An American Pickle is a delightful comedy, featuring one of star Seth Rogen’s best performances in some time (as two different characters, no less). The film is available to watch on HBO Max, after originally being intended for a theatrical release by Sony Pictures.
The film opens in 1919, as Jewish grave-digger Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) lives a rather dreary existence in Eastern Europe. When he and his wife, Sarah (Sarah Snook), immigrate to the United States, he takes a job as a rat-killer in a pickle factory – only to fall into a tub of pickles moments before the factory is shut down.
Miraculously, the pickle brine keeps him alive for one-hundred years, at which point he’s discovered and awakened by a few wandering kids in modern-day Brooklyn. His only living family is his great-grandson, Ben (also Rogen), who happily takes in his scientific miracle of a great-grandfather.
The film is primarily concerned with the cultural differences between the two relatives. Herschel is devoutly Jewish and invested in his family heritage, whereas Ben is disconnected from Judaism and keeps his memories of his family shut away in a closet. He never visits the Greenbaum family grave plot, which devastates Herschel (adding insult to injury is the placement of a Russian vodka billboard above Sarah’s grave, bringing back memories of Cossack raids against Herschel’s home village).
Herschel and Ben also have very different career aspirations. While Ben is developing an app to help inform consumers of a given company’s ethics, Herschel goes into the old-fashioned pickle business – and, in the process, becomes a culinary sensation among Brooklyn’s increasingly gentrified population. Eventually, a rivalry forms between the two Greenbaums, particularly as Ben attempts to sabotage Herschel’s pickle operation at every turn.
Despite the absurdity of the premise, the film works most effectively when it’s grounded in the drama between these two men. The broader material – mostly concerning the furor Herschel stokes online from his not-so-politically-correct beliefs from a century prior – aren’t quite as effective as the dramatic material, but the whole picture is enjoyable and entertaining nonetheless. An American Pickle is a charming and easygoing late summer surprise.
The film is rated PG-13, and the humor is far less bawdy and crude than you’d normally expect from Rogen. In fact, there’s not much objectionable in the movie at all, aside from the occasional curse word. I’d recommend the film for ages ten and above.
Reviewed by Jack Kyser, a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.