An American Pickle
Seth Rogen’s latest comedy might be his quirkiest, most unconventional yet – at least in its premise. Various popular Rogen comedy hallmarks are present and accounted for in the HBO Max original An American Pickle. The streaming platform picked up the comedy/family drama after the coronavirus ensured it wouldn’t get its planned cinematic release (although Warner Bros. have seen to that particular pickle, with a cinematic release confirmed after all).
For the first ever HBO Max original film released on the platform, there is also a first-time solo-director credit for longtime Rogen collaborator Brandon Trost. Rogen doesn’t so much steal the show as be the show, playing the film’s two lead characters: Herschel Greenbaum and his great-grandson, Ben. The identical family members separated by four generations and one hundred years are miraculously, incredibly brought together when Herschel falls into a vat of pickle brine, suspending him in his 1919 state through to 2019, when he is finally recovered from the now decrepit pickle factory.
The plot is taken from a short story by famed Pixar and New Yorker writer Simon Rich, called Sell-Out. Some of the story’s cartoonish implausibility doesn’t translate well, and seems better suited to an animated short. However, Trost casually, and correctly, brushes over the sheer absurdity of a man being preserved in pickle brine for a whole century with a deftly-written joke: Rogen narrating over, and thus obfuscating, a scientist’s apparently comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon.
Herschel, accompanied by his wife Sarah, arrives in New York after seeing his home in Shlupsk, eastern Europe, pillaged by Cossacks. The pair arrive in America with humble dreams. Sarah wants a cemetery plot for her family, while Herschel would one day like to taste Seltzer. The overriding dream of the couple, however, is for the Greenbaum name to prosper beyond its peasantry. Fast-forward to 2019 and enter Ben, the hipster 30-something trying and, so far, failing to launch an app.
The time-slip conceit elicits innumerable occasions to have a laugh at Herschel’s outdated views and outrageous opinions. Using this vehicle, the outstanding Rogen explores pride, honour and loss. It is also used to compare and contrast old and new worlds, with the one consistent theme being family. It makes for a heartwarming, absorbingly wacky tale of a family legacy.
An American Pickle is released in select cinemas on 7th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for An American Pickle here: