Directed by: Brandon Trost
Premise: Based on the short story “Sell Out” by Simon Rich. An early twentieth century European Jew (Seth Rogan) immigrates to the United States. He becomes trapped in a large pickling container and is reawakened in the present day where he meets his great-grandson (Seth Rogan).
What Works: An American Pickle is a satire about a contemporary man literally confronting his heritage. Ben is an atheistic Jew who works as a web developer and is estranged from his family background until Herschel, his great-grandfather, is miraculously reawakened in the present day. The scenario of An American Pickle visualizes a contemporary man’s complex relationship with his past and specifically his Jewish heritage. The immigrant story is one of the essential American narratives and An American Pickle is an intelligent and funny play on that. Much of the movie is about Herschel adapting to the contemporary environment and the resulting comedy of errors. Herschel comes from a very different culture and his manners are regarded as adorably folksy or insultingly crass. The way Ben and the general public react to Herschel is a funny play on the tense relationship many people have with their past, both nationally and ethnically. An American Pickle features Seth Rogan in dual roles as Ben and as Herschel and this is one of Rogan’s best performances. He’s an actor capable of both drama and comedy and he gets to do both here. Rogan and the filmmakers show good judgement for when to be silly and when to play it straight. This is a very funny movie but it also gets to some real substance as Ben reconciles with his heritage and rediscovers his sense of identity and community.
What Doesn’t: An American Pickle has a far out premise but this is a satire in the vein of Gulliver’s Travels or Being There and its credibility has to be allowed some latitude. However, a few turns of this story are forced. On a couple of occasions Herschel shows up in places, especially Ben’s apartment, only so the characters can get into a new conflict and push the story forward. Of the dual protagonists, Herschel is the more interesting of the two because he is the one going through the fish-out-of-water experience. But An American Pickle might have been a bit stronger if it did a bit more with Ben. He mostly just reacts to Herschel and the movie might have gotten deeper into its exploration of heritage and identity if Ben was a more complex character.
DVD extras: Currently available on HBO Max.
Bottom Line: An American Pickle is a smart satire about a contemporary man reconciling with his family heritage. The movie is intelligent and funny and features terrific dual performances by Seth Rogan.
Episode: #834 (January 10, 2021)