You know things are getting desperate when I turn to a film that I have previously heard being described as Seth Rogen’s very own Jack And Jill. Slim pickings this of late has me giving into probably the biggest home release of the week, one that I have to admit I would probably have given a miss if my local cinema were up and running with more options. Oh well, the show must go on, and here I am, offering up my thoughts on An American Pickle.
Starring Seth Rogen in a dual performance, An American Pickle tells the story of Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), a European immigrant who in 1919 is preserved after falling into a vat of brine at a pickle factory. Unearthed one hundred years later, Herschel is reintroduced to modern society and connects with his only living descendent, great grandson Ben (also Rogen).
So, as you can see, the title is dumb, and the premise is dumb, so it’s no surprise that for the most part, the film as a whole is just pretty dumb. What is really very annoying though, is that there is actually the bones of something interesting here that doesn’t get appropriately explored. In a broad sense, there is something very intriguing about the sort of pre and post WWII Jewish experience smashing together in an exaggerated and fantastical way, but being what it is, An American Pickle chooses the lowest hanging out fruit whenever it can. Perhaps out of character for a Rogen centric movie, there isn’t the usual wave of drug jokes and references, but the vibe of the humour is still very recognisable for his brand, and unfortunately it’s just a brand that I don’t enjoy.
Outside of the hit and miss comedy, there is also a thread of something more heartwarming in the narrative, focusing on the bond of family, the bond of religion, and the ways in which Judaism in particular is not just a matter of faith but also very much a cultural thing that can’t always be associated with God. These more pensive, poignant moments of the film are the ones that I enjoyed the most, but unfortunately they are too few in a sea of humour that doesn’t appeal to me. In particular there is a section on ‘cancel culture’ that is so overlong and repetitive, it literally achieves the same plot progression three times in a row completely needlessly and feels very self indulgent.
What I will say, though, is that from a technical standpoint, the double on screen presence of Seth Rogen is done very well. The film doesn’t look clunky in the ways that it manages to execute scenes between the two protagonists, and I was pleasantly surprised that after the initial novelty of the double Seth factor, I was able to lose myself in the story (as much as one loses themselves in something they aren’t really enjoying, of course).
In many ways, An American Pickle is the perfect vehicle for Seth Rogen because it allows him to show multiple sides of himself. In Herschel, he gives all of the heavily accented, crazy bearded, ‘oy vey’ type comedy that seems like it would be fun to play, and in Ben there is the more sensitive, muted, at times emotionally demanding work that is much more grounded in reality. Speaking objectively, I think that Rogen does more things right than he does wrong, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
For a film that feels fairly fleshed out and isn’t particularly small scale, Seth Rogen’s two characters really do feel like the only characters of note. The one other performance that warrants any kind of shoutout goes to Sarah Snook as Herschel’s wife Sarah. She has some fun, almost silent movie style acting to do at the very beginning of the film while an extended voice over plays, and though we don’t see her at all after that, her name lingers across the narrative and it makes the character a memorable one.
Overall, An American Pickle is getting more frustrating to me the longer I think about it, simply for the fact that there is an interesting and original story to be told out of these weird foundations, but the silliness and overwhelming dumb nature of the movie overrides any of the more poignant or heartwarming moments that it attempts. I might be the fool for wanting something more out of a film that is literally about a man who preserves himself in pickle juice for a century, but there we go. It’s nowhere near the criminal levels of Jack And Jill so those comparisons aren’t really justified, but it’s still something that you shouldn’t be upset about missing.