An American Pickle, by Cameron J. Czaja

Unless you’re like me and scout new movies to watch every week, chances are that you haven’t heard of An American Pickle. I say that because it’s not available on Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, or Amazon Prime. Instead, it’s on a new streaming service called HBO MAX. So far, I’m enjoying that platform though hopefully they can get more original content out so I can use that service to its full potential. But I’m not here to talk about HBO MAX. I’m here to talk about An American Pickle, which is the latest film starring comedian Seth Rogen.

Seth Rogen can be hit or miss with me. While there isn’t a particular film of his that I hate (although I was not a fan of Neighbors whatsoever), one thing I noticed, however, is that Seth Rogen has developed a shtick throughout his filmography and to me it’s getting a little tiresome. Whether he’s smoking weed or making sex jokes, Seth Rogen’s type of humor is becoming more transparent the more I watch his films. Then I heard the premise to An American Pickle and was intrigued because it’s Seth Rogen playing dual roles. One character that he is playing is a typical, modern-day New York hipster, and the other is a Eastern European immigrant from the early 1900s who ends up in our modern society. If you’re confused by that last sentence, then don’t worry as I will elaborate more as I discuss the plot. Also, mild spoilers ahead.

In An American Pickle we follow Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), a Jewish laborer from Eastern Europe who Immigrates to New York City in 1919 with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook). They leave their home for a better life after their hometown was attacked by Russian Cossacks, which leaves Herschel having a hateful view towards Russians. When they get to New York, Herschel gets a job killing rats at a pickle factory.  One day an accident occurs where Herschel falls into a vat of pickles which quickly gets sealed up and moments after that the factory gets shut down. A century later Herschel is discovered and not only is he perfectly preserved, but he’s still alive thanks to the pickle brine (yes it’s silly but just go with it). From there Herschel discovers that he has a great grandson by the name of Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogen) and when they first meet they hit it off really well. Unfortunately, that blissful moment doesn’t last because when the two of them pay a visit to the cemetery where the Greenbaum family is laid to rest, Herschel causes a fight with construction workers over a Billboard advertising Russian vodka near the Greenbaum family cemetery. The two of them end up getting arrested, which causes Ben’s investors to back out of a project that he’s been working on for five years. This causes friction between the two Greenbaums to where Ben disregards Herschel as family. Broken and all alone, Herschel then decides to start a pickle business so that not only he can take down the billboard at the cemetery, but also to be more successful than Ben. 

So there were some things I appreciated in An American Pickle. For starters, it was pretty tame compared to other Seth Rogen films (meaning no hint of drugs or crude sexual humor) and I did like how Seth Rogen portrayed dual roles. Unfortunately, the rushed story and certain interactions between characters (almost) overshadowed my positive feelings I had towards this film. 

Throughout the film, the phrase yada yada yada kept going through my mind when it came to the storytelling in An American Pickle. Certain events occur with little to no explanation and we’re left to accept that things just happen. One example is when Herschel awakens from the pickle brine. After he wakes up, he’s literally at a press conference hosted by scientists that explains to reporters how he was perfectly preserved. Does the movie show how he met the scientists? It doesn’t and there are several scenes like that scattered throughout the film. If it was a longer film I could understand if the filmmakers took shortcuts when it came to storytelling, but the running time is barely an hour and a half which means they could’ve expanded on the story. But, alas, it just felt like they wanted to put this out quickly.

Another aspect that bothered me was the interactions between the two relatives. After Herschel leaves Ben and starts the pickle business, yada yada yada, he becomes a successful Pickle salesman. At first, I thought this would lead Ben to reconcile with Herschel and start afresh. However, that’s far from what happens as Ben starts to sabotage Herschel’s business with modern-day thinking that Herschel hasn’t quite grasped, such as repercussions of free speech and certain political views. Just watching the pettiness between these two characters got on my nerves and I was beginning to wonder how the film would go from there.

To be honest I was ready to write An American Pickle off. The way the story was being told and the actions of characters made me check the running time constantly to see how much time I left to finish this film. Then the third act began and while I initially didn’t like it, it mysteriously bounced back to being a film that I was starting to enjoy. Without going into details, an unfortunate event happens to Ben that leaves him all alone and nowhere to go. This has him turns towards his Jewish faith (which is something he hasn’t practiced in a long time) and he starts to feel whole. This is something that most of us can relate to whenever we stumble in our faith time to time and seeing Ben reconnect with his Jewish heritage left me feeling hopeful about the film. Herschel notices this when he tracks down Ben, and the two of them begin to reconcile and become a family again.  That scene alone really stood out to me because I always love when a films ends on a very positive family message.

I would be lying to you if I said that An American Pickle alone is worth the subscription for HBO MAX, but if you happen to have it then I would cautiously recommend this, but be prepared for the criticisms I presented. I’m not sure if I’ll see it again, but if I do I’ll know that it’ll end on a positive note.


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