“An American Pickle” Movie Review


     Early on in director Brandon Trost’s “An American Pickle”, the filmmaker winks at the audience when the science behind his story’s plot is glossed over and said to have been verified as true by top experts.  He’s letting us know the liberties he has taken are realized and the suspension of disbelief is key if you are to continue as the yarn unspools.  Seth Rogen, armed with an Eastern European accent that instantly brought “Borat” back into my mind, plays Herschel Greenbaum, a ditch digger and low level worker at a pickle factory in 1919 Brooklyn who accidentally falls into a brining vat, which is then sealed as the company condemns the building.  But the liquid proves to be the ultimate preservative as Herschel awakens one hundred years later, perfectly healthy and having not aged at all.

     The “Borat” vibe continues as we are presented at first with a standard fish out of water scenario that sees a man who remembers a simple life, suddenly thrust into the chaos of modern society.  Fortunately for him, he has one living relative, who also happens to live right there in New York City.  Enter Ben Greenbaum, also played by Rogen, a single millennial app developer who at times seems as lost as his newly found great grandfather.

     Initially, it is Ben who answers all of Herschel’s questions centering mostly around the obvious changes in the way we live as compared to his time.  He’s astonished with Ben’s seltzer machine, as well as the fact he has seven pairs of shoes and twenty five pairs of socks.  The technology doesn’t seem to really catch his eye, but the fact Ben doesn’t have any family photos displayed in his apartment does.  You see Herschel’s entire world once revolved around his beloved Sarah (Sarah Snook), and the first thing he did, once they had saved up enough money, was purchase a plot in an attractive looking cemetery for the two of them to be buried in. Today, the cemetery is in shambles, overlooked by freeway bridges and billboards, and hardly what Herschel had envisioned for his final resting place.

     Given the fact Herschel’s existence previously centered around hard work and determination, it doesn’t take very long for him to lose respect for Ben’s way of life and accuse him of not putting in the effort it takes to succeed. A notion that leads to an immediate break up of the pair and Herschel’s staunch commitment to showing the youngster exactly what real work ethic can produce.  The second act mainly consists of a back and forth where Herschel does indeed see success with a fledgling pickle business, only to be thwarted, mainly from the use of technology and social media, by Ben who would rather see him fail.  It’s as if both men, who appear to be the same age, are looking to instill life lessons on one another, never once realizing they would be stronger together.

     Perhaps what stands out most about the film is the highly effective prologue in which we first meet Herschel and his wife Sarah back in 1919.  In addition to the beautifully photographed settings, which provide a strong indication of Trost’s roots as a DP, the love story sets the stage for a more impactful journey once Herschel arrives in modern times.  We already know what he’s made of and what’s important to him.  He lives in a world where despite everything seemingly working against him, the ability to overcome and succeed at all costs remains an ongoing mantra as he knows in order to support his wife, failure is not an option.   After seeing this,  it’s no surprise he forms a negative opinion about his great grandson so quickly.

     For the most part, Rogen pulls off the two way role, injecting a lot of what has appealed to people about him into both characters.  And while the “Borat” comparison is inevitable for Herschel, his Ben character is very much like his Fred Flarsky character in 2019’s “Long Shot”, where the freelance nature of his existence plays well with Rogen’s strengths as a middle class likable everyman stuck in a world where he doesn’t know exactly where he’s going.  That is until fate brings forth his one hundred year old great grandfather or in the case of the latter, his childhood flame who is now running for President.

     All of this, of course, ultimately leads to the gooey and sentimental center the majority of these formulaic comedies most often conclude with.  I mean, family can only be at odds for so long right?  Especially in a movie.  And with that, screenwriter Simon Rich, adapting from his own short story “Sell Out”, brings forth an entertaining vehicle for Rogen to work with.  Something undoubtedly made easier by his teaming with first time director Brandon Trost, who has worked with Rogen countless times before as the Cinematographer for “Neighbors”, “This Is the End”, and most recently “The Disaster Artist”.  And though “An American Pickle” never rises to the heights of either of those efforts, the film still manages to remain intriguing throughout and warrants enough to consider this a successful debut for Trost. GRADE: B-