August 11, 2020

“An American Pickle” Review: Defying All Sorts of Expectations

Despite being a comedy, An American Pickle manages to defy Seth Rogen’s genre.

How, you might ask? How does this new streaming film challenge the typically-R-rated actor’s method of entertainment?

To start off, most of his films are “rooted in realism.” This doesn’t mean their contrived conflicts and insanity could (and would) actually happen, but they’re set in a familiar time, or political climate, that the audience can relate to.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Sausage Party and This is the End, among others, don’t exactly scream ‘relatable.’ However, An American Pickle isn’t a part of that group, but it wouldn’t find a place among his other films either. Instead, it’s in a league of its own.

Smartly spending little much time on exposition, An American Pickle begins in the early 20th century and introduces us to Jewish laborer Herschel Greenbaum (played by Rogen, who also produced the film), who moves with his wife Sarah from the small (and fictional) Eastern European town of Schlupsk to America, “the land of dreams.” Herschel gets a job in a pickle factory, but one day falls into a vat immediately before the factory is condemned.

Here’s where the fantastical element comes in: one hundred years later, Herschel wakes up in the vat, the brine having perfectly preserved his body. He’s introduced to his only living descendent, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen). After the usual time-travel, fish-out-of-water bits, the plot takes some quirky twists, many centering on the importance of family.

Rogen’s dual casting is easily the best part of the movie. Oddly enough, the scenes where he interacts with himself are the most engaging, not only because it shows his acting range (Herschel and Ben are very different people, on many levels) but because this is where the film’s emotional core emerges. There’s conflict, but it’s believable, and the interactions are very real. That’s one of the big things that sets this film apart from Rogen’s others.

Additionally, the story flows very naturally, and with an under-90 minute runtime, it isn’t too big of a commitment. Sure, it’s riddled with plot holes, but these arent distracting enough to matter in the long run. It’s just outlandish enough to be enjoyable, but doesn’t go over the top. It’s funny, but not excessively.

Doesn’t really sound like Seth Rogen, does it? And to create a further divide, it’s rated PG-13. It’s quite possibly the closest he’s ever come to making a family film (we’re just going to forget that the 2019 remake of The Lion King never happened). It’s light and surprisingly tame, but that’s not a bad thing. Not by any means.

One more thing to pay attention to, should you choose to devote time to a viewing: Michael Giacchino and Nami Melanur’s score will not be given the attention it deserves, but it’s definitely something to be appreciated. Its melodious, quirky orchestral themes and clever song titles should not go unnoticed.

I haven’t read the short story the film is based on, entitled “Sell Out,” (actually written by the film’s screenwriter, Simon Rich) but Rogen’s charm certainly shines through in the movie, even though it presents itself as a bit more restrained than Rogen’s previous outings. That doesn’t bring it down, though; in fact, it accomplishes the opposite effect: An American Pickle is a lot of fun, and is one of the movies you shouldn't think too hard about. Just sit back, grab an artisanal pickle, and enjoy. [Grade: A]

Director: Brandon Trost
Writer: Simon Rich
Starring: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Eliot Glazer, Jorma Taccone, Kalen Allen, Molly Evensen
Rated: PG-13 for some language and rude humor
Available: HBO Max
Fun Fact: An American Pickle is actually the first film produced by Rogen that is not rated R.

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