10th Aug2020

‘An American Pickle’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccome, Molly Evensen, Eliot Glazer, Kalen Allen | Written by Simon Rich | Directed by Brandon Trost

Seth Rogen pulls double duty in this bittersweet fish-out-of-water comedy based on an acclaimed short story by comic writer Simon Rich. It’s an entertaining, oddly touching picture that finds Rogen on top form, twice.

Opening in the fictional Polish shtetl of Schlupsk, An American Pickle centres on lowly, bearded ditch-digger Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), who moves to America with his pregnant wife Sarah (Succession‘s Sarah Snook) after one too many attacks by Jew-hating Cossacks. Herschel gets a job as a rat-basher in a pickle factory, but accidentally falls into a vat of pickles, just as the factory is closed down.

100 years later, Herschel wakes up, the pickle brine having miraculously kept him alive. He is dismayed to discover that his only living relative is his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum (also Rogen), a hipster app developer living in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. Herschel moves into Ben’s apartment, but the pair quickly fall out after an act of violence from Herschel gets them both arrested and scuppers the sale of Ben’s ethical shopping app, BoopBop. Thereafter, it’s war, with Herschel setting up his own artisanal pickling business and Ben scheming to take him down.

Rogen’s evident enjoyment in his performance as Herschel is infectious, mixing a thick beard and a thicker accent to great comic effect. Accordingly, Herschel is consistently amusing, whether casually berating his great-grandson’s lifestyle (“You have legs, you do not need this thing”, he scoffs at Ben’s scooter), marvelling at the fact that Ben owns 25 pairs of socks or finally tasting the seltzer water he’s dreamed of all his life.

Rogen’s second role is much closer to the types of character he usually plays, but he does a good job of keeping Ben sympathetic, even when he’s doing mean things. There isn’t really a supporting cast to speak of – it’s very much a two-hander, or rather a one-hander – but it’s a shame Snook isn’t given more to do, given their apparent comic chemistry.

An American Pickle‘s strongest element is its unpredictable nature – it tries to do several different things within its basic fish-out-of-water set-up and it mostly succeeds. That’s down to a confident script (by Simon Rich, adapting his own story) and the fact that debut director Brandon Trost (a cinematographer who’d worked on several of Rogen’s previous films) manages to keep tight control of the tone, which isn’t always an easy task here.

Crucially, An American Pickle is genuinely funny, delivering several decent laughs, whether it’s Herschel’s deadpan assessment of his ditch-digging career in Schlupsk or Ben cunningly sabotaging his great grandfather by introducing him to Twitter. What’s more impressive is the way the emotion of the film sneaks up on you – rather than opting for mawkish sentimentality, Trost and Rich pull off a series of quieter, more contemplative moments that are just as effective, not least because they invite the audience to do some of the work.

Ultimately, between Rogen’s delightful dual performances, the witty script and the confident direction, there are more than enough reasons for you to end up in a Pickle this week. Oh, and don’t leave before the end credits are finished, because you’ll miss one of the best scenes of the film.

**** 4/5

An American Pickle is in UK cinemas now.


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