A fish-out-of-water movie where Seth Rogen plays two members of the same family, brought together following an accident which left one of them preserved in brine for 100 years? It’s a wacky premise, and with Rogen in the title role, you’d probably form a pretty good idea of how this might play out as a goofball comedy. Thankfully, it’s not like that at all.
It’s 1919. Herschel Greenbaum leads a simple life, working as a ditch-digger in Eastern European village Schlupsk – a tough job, that results in many broken shovels. One day though, his luck changes when he meets Sarah, and they fall in love. They have so much in common – his parents were murdered by Cossacks, her parents were murdered by Cossacks, not to mention the fact that they both like black! But when those pesky Cossacks ravage the village on their wedding day, Herschel and Sarah decide to set sail for America, with plans for a new life in the land of opportunity. Settling in Brooklyn, Herschel still has pretty simple life goals, wanting one day to be able to experience the luxury of seltzer water (“I want the bubbles to tickle my tongue”). But he and his now pregnant wife vow that in 100 years time, the Greenbaum name will actually mean something.
Herschel lands himself a slightly better job than ditch-digger – chasing and killing rats in a pickle factory! But an unfortunate accident sees Herschel falling into a large vat of pickles, right at the very moment that the factory gets condemned and shut down. The lid is placed on the vat and the workers quickly abandon the factory, leaving Herschel perfectly preserved in the brine. 100 years pass, and the city develops around the factory, which miraculously seems to remain untouched until 2019, when a couple of kids venture inside and remove the lid of the vat, releasing Herschel from his hibernation.
The science behind how this perfect preservation was possible is hilariously glossed over, and when his only living relative is discovered, Herschel is released into his care. Great-grandson Ben (also played by Rogen) is an app developer residing in Brooklyn, and with no living family is overjoyed at the opportunity to take Herschel back to his apartment and begin introducing him to the future.
Ben has a SodaStream, so finally being able to enjoy the tickling bubbles of seltzer water is already a highlight for Herschel. Ben also owns 25 pairs of socks, which is amazing as he only has two feet! But it’s not long before Herschel begins to question why Ben doesn’t have any family photos up in his apartment and why the mobile app that Ben has been working so hard on for the last five years hasn’t really taken off. After discovering that the plot of land where his wife Sarah is buried sits right beneath a billboard advertising vodka (“Cossack vodka!”), Herschel becomes determined to raise the $200,000 needed to buy the plot of land so that he can remove the billboard.
When we discussed the trailer for An American Pickle on one of our recent TrailerChat posts, we got the impression that, despite the obvious wackiness of the plot, there was evidence of a strong family movie at the heart – a touching representation of what it would mean to be able to spend some time with one of your ancestors. There are certainly elements of that here, early on and in the latter parts of the movie. However, with their differing approaches to family values and attitudes to business, the pair soon fall out, and there is a lengthy period of bickering and backstabbing, which eventually becomes tiresome. Herschel starts setting up his own pickle business from scratch, while a jealous Ben does his very best to ruin everything. It’s a noticeable lack of focus that ultimately lets the movie down.
Despite that, it’s wonderful to see Seth Rogen in such different roles. I’m not usually a fan of his, and even mentioned in my TrailerChat comment how bored I am now of his usual stoner shtick in almost every movie he’s in. But I really enjoyed his performances in this, especially as the thickly accented Herschel, and his interactions with Ben are both charming and wonderful at times.
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