Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 28 minutes, Director – Brandon Trost
Ditch-digger Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) finds himself in present day Brooklyn after being preserved in pickle brine for 100 years.
Seth Rogen falls into a giant vat of pickles and is preserved in the brine for 100 years. This may sound, to some, like the standard basis for a Rogen led feature, especially with the brand of “stoner-comedy” that he seems to have become associated with. However, An American Pickle is something rather different from the man behind the likes of Bad Neighbours, This Is The End and Sausage Party. Having worked with Rogen on some of these features is Pickle’s director Brandon Trost, making his debut here; having served as cinematographer on a number of Rogen projects. Trost, alongside Simon Rich’s screenplay – adapting his New Yorker published short story Sell Out – and the efforts of the entire cast and crew, manages to make something rather endearing of this tale of salt and cucumbers.
Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, a penniless ditch digger in early 20th century Schlupsk who finds himself travelling to America in hope for a better life. Unfortunately not long after his hope-filled travels Herschel finds himself falling into a giant vat of pickles, preserved in the brine for 100 years, until he is let free in the modern day. He finds himself left to wander the streets of Brooklyn; alone, without his wife or any family for that matter. That is until it’s revealed that he has one living relative left, a great-grandson called Ben (also played by Rogen). Ben works as an app developer and takes it upon himself to teach his distant relative, who conveniently happens to be the same age as him (or at least he was when he was first preserved), despite his behaviour being that of an older man, the ways of the 21st Century.
There’s something about the dual performance at the centre of this film where due to the plot things could easily delve into parody – especially when Herschel starts up his own pickle business which leads to an odd rivalry of revenge between the pair – particularly from Ben towards the almost clueless, and highly ‘traditional’ Herschel. Yet, the central figures always seem real, engaging and most of all entertaining, while never straying away from feeling genuine. There’s a chance that a number of the themes, particularly that of Ben’s Jewish background, yet lack of faith, and in particular the themes of grief within the film, are personal for Rogen and therefore bring an extra layer to his performances. Either way he brings in an element of delightfully surprising charm, not to mention the emotion that’s emitted from a number of scenes.
As the characters develop and the modern world is further revealed to the somewhat time-travelling protagonist his olde-age views and offensive comments spark outrage and protests. Yet, never does the film step into the realm of critique or commentary. Such points simply make it feel more relevant, while also adding to the humour that the piece emits. This is a deeply funny feature that knows how to balance the carefully fuelled comedy with equally effective sorrow. All while never being a complicated feature.
From the opening scenes as we see Herschel describing his life in his homeland, drab and simple yet warm and beginning to be fulfilled – as also told by the almost colourless cinematography and square framing – the film’s tone is clearly set out. This is an uplifting piece. Joyful and caring, and in some ways that makes it even more relevant and engaging. All of this done while never forgetting that this is the story of a man who fell into a vat of pickles and was immaculately protected in salty brine for a whole century. There is warmth and charm, sorrow and joy all emitted from this story. A true collaborative effort, a potentially personal one for many of the key parties involved. And much of it comes down to Seth Rogen’s fantastically sobering dual performance at the centre of it.
At times An American Pickle feels like a collaboration between Mel Brooks and Taika Waititi. Fantastically observed writing, direction and performances bring to life this hilarious, impassioned, effortlessly charming tale. While the initial idea might be obscure the finished product may just be one of the most accessible and entertaining films of the year.