An American Pickle is the story of Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish immigrant who comes to the United States in the early 20th century searching for a better life. He gets a job at a pickle factory and unfortunately falls into a brine and is sealed in for 100 years. He wakes up in the present and finds he has a living relative and tries to make it big in this new world he's found himself in. The film stars Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen, Eliot Glazer, Kalen Allen, Sean Whalen, Geoffrey Cantor, Carol Leifer, and Jorma Taccone. It is directed by Brandon Trost and is written by Simon Rich. The film is a Max Original, streaming exclusively on HBO Max.
What I like most about An American Pickle is that it skips over the minutiae. It's a lean film at just under an hour and a half and it doesn't waste time or space on the science of brining a human being for a century. It also doesn't waste too much time on the very boring stranger in a strange land tropes of, "What's that?" and "Oh my God it's magic!" The story goes right to the heart of the matter.
For the most part, An American Pickle is about dealing with grief. Herschel as a man who had no one but his family, struggles to understand why Ben has no one at all in his life. Even in his darkest times Herschel had people around him. Yet, Ben eschews those traditions, he does as all of us in the modern world do from time to time and he folds inward. What they don't fully understand is that their methods of proving themselves worthy of their loved ones legacies are actually the same.
The film focuses this ambition in a sort of old world/new world face off. Of course, Herschel is outmatched in every way but his product. He has no idea how to navigate a far more progressive society that almost always requires one to be tech, business, and people savvy. Ben on the other hand fails to adequately promote his product and puts his faith in the wrong people. The film takes the old American ambition of an individual pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and shows just how much luck is involved in that process.
What's unlucky is the few times the film made me sigh by focusing on the lamest of fish out of water tropes. I did laugh at the montage of broken ditch digging implements, but many of the scenes in the old world and in the old times left me cold. The story has that same idea of, "We have a terrible life here, lets move to America and have a terrible life there, but with the opportunities only our children can achieve." The story also gets that wishy washiness about Herschel's regressive ideas. Though, I do like that he can say anything he wants about anyone, but he is hounded for disrupting that sacred idea of Christianity.
The real magic trick of An American Pickle is in Seth Rogen's dual performances. He's able to create two distinct characters. Neither Herschel nor Ben falls into a completely wacky persona, despite Herschel's inherent wacky circumstances. They're both grounded in a reality and feel like real and completely different persons without many of the clumsy Rogenisms that often take me out of Rogen's comedic roles. This is a balancing act that's pulled of effortlessly and truthfully.
I really liked An American Pickle. It's sweet with a little sourness. It's funny and has a great deal of heart. I like Simon Rich's snappy dialogue, Brandon Trost's grandiose style, and Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad's rousing, somewhat superheroic score. It's a fun comedy that makes me think of my own legacy and what those that came before would think about how I exist in the here and now. Check it out if you have the chance.