Director: Brandon Trost
Starring: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Eliot Glazer, Kalen Allen and Jorma Taccone
Run Time: 1h 30min
For those lamenting the lack of original ideas in films these days, look no further. Adapted by Simon Rich from his 2013 New Yorker novella, Sell Out, An American Pickle is as unique as they come.
It’s 1919 and we’re in Eastern Europe, the fictional town of Schlupsk to be precise, to witness devout Jew Herschel Greenbaum’s (Seth Rogen) marriage to the love of his life, Sarah (Sarah Snook). He’s a hardworking labourer struggling to make ends meet with a simple dream of wanting to taste seltzer water so he can feel the bubbles tickling his tongue. Sarah’s is slightly more ambitious. She wants to be rich enough to buy her own gravestone. Fancy. Their wedding is rudely interrupted by a group of Cossacks who butcher everyone apart from the now not-so happy couple. Attempting to put a life of hardship and persecution behind them, they move to New York to begin a new life of, well, hardship and persecution.
Employed as a rat-catcher in a factory, Herschel accidentally falls into a huge vat of pickling brine that, somehow, manages to preserve him perfectly for 100 years. Waking up in modern-day Brooklyn, he must adjust to 21st century America with the help of his only surviving relative, great-grandson Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogen). As the pair initially bond, old wounds are slowly opened as cultures clash and a family feud threatens to tear the Greenbaum legacy apart.
There’s an awful lot to enjoy about An American Pickle. A smart script explores racism, the current trend of cancel-culture and the power of social media whilst Seth Rogen, in virtually every scene as one character or the other, has plenty to sink his teeth into. As Herschel, he shows a fierce determination and stubbornness where Ben has an endearing charm in his casual approach to life. These traits are interchangeable as both find themselves on a journey of discovery as they try to make sense of their new situation.
The comedy mainly comes from Herschel struggling to adapt as a fish out of water (should that be man out of brine?!) trying to get his head around magic rectangles (iPads) or Ben owning 25 pairs of socks, (“But, you only have two feet…”). One can’t help but think of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but there’s a very touching story of family at An American Pickle’s heart and amidst all the silliness, perhaps surprisingly, there are occasionally very delicate moments of poignancy. Religion and faith are explored too. The simple comfort that can be found in prayer is timeless, but attitudes towards certain Gods and the more relaxed approach to particular beliefs highlight how quickly practices have changed through the years.
Quirky and uplifting, Brandon Trost’s timely film should be embraced for the absurd escape it is. A terrific showcase for Seth Rogen’s talents, An American Pickle might not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it easy to swallow.
An American Pickle falls into UK cinemas from August 7th.