It is a tale as old as time: A man moves to America, that man gets a job at a pickle factory, that man falls into a pickle vat as the building is being condemned, that man wakes up 100 years later and moves in with his great-grandson who is his only living relative. What clash of personalities would result? What clash of ideals and aspirations?
An American Pickle stars Seth Rogen as both Hershel Greenbaum and his great-grandson Ben. Hershel, who left his shtetl in 1919, wakes up in 2020 to find the legacy he wanted for his family is not exactly as he pictured it. He, a hard-working man with cultural and personal beliefs 100 years out of date and Ben, a timid freelance app developer, don’t exactly have a ton in common.
What follows is a sweet, if inconsequential, story of family and identity.
Before you ask, no, the movie is not concerned with the logistics or believability of a man being preserved by pickle brine. It brushes off the whole discussion with one of the better jokes in the first third of the movie, and the movie is better for it since it doesn’t really matter anyway.
The film has two main problems: first, it’s a little slight, and second, the second act feels a little stretched out (which is a weird thing to say about a film that only has a 90 minute run time). It’s a fun concept, and there’s a ton that could be explored from Jewish identity and guilt to changing cultural attitudes, to how we view our own legacy, much of which is touched upon but not really considered with much depth.
Does that matter either, though? I’m not sure it needs to. Seth Rogen is here to remind us that he’s an excellent actor, turning in not one but two great performances as Hershel and Ben, each nuanced and earnest in unique ways and not defined simply by facial hair or an accent as they so easily could have been.
An American Pickle was originally destined for theatres in 2020 but after being acquired by Warner Bros it has been released by HBO Max in the US and Crave in Canada, and honestly I think this might have been the best thing for it. Films like this that have a balance of great and not great things in them like this one tend to suffer in theatres but find new life on TV, so maybe it’s best that this one just starts there.
Either way, this may not be everyone’s jar of pickles, but it’s worth watching just for Rogen’s performance.