Current Issue #488

Film Review:
An American Pickle

Seth Rogen and Sarah Snook in An American Pickle

Seth Rogen gives two fine, understated performances in director (and pro cinematographer) Brandon Trost’s solo feature directorial début without resorting to caricature, vulgarity or stoner nonsense.

Underrated as a light dramatic player, Rogen here acts alongside himself by way of seamless greenscreen, and in order to prepare he reconnected with his Jewish heritage, learnt some Yiddish and knocked off the potty-mouthed mugging. And, well, not before time.

Drawn by screenwriter Simon Rich from his own 2013 short story Sell Out, this begins with the heavily-bearded Herschel Greenbaum (Seth) narrating his life story as a desperately poor but positive labourer in his Eastern European shtetl back in 1919. Blissfully happy when he marries his true love Sarah (Adelaide’s own Sarah Snook, who also appeared alongside Seth in Steve Jobs), the pair then decide to emigrate to America after one too many invasions by Russian Cossacks, and here Herschel eventually finds menial work in (of course) a pickle factory.

Naturally, Herschel topples into a vat after a rat uprising (?), and 100 years later he’s found, snapped out of suspended animation and completely bewildered, in the long-derelict building. Something of a celebrity, Herschel connects with his only living relative: his great grandson Ben (Seth again), a freelance app designer somewhat hung up on contemporary questions of morality and ethics that the older-than-old-school Herschel can’t – and perhaps won’t – understand.

This type of time-travelling-fish-out-of-water tale isn’t new at all, but there’s much here that’s sweetly funny and melancholically moving, with Herschel attempting to grasp the concept of cars, TVs, the internet and David Bowie and Ben forced to make all manner of concessions for his great grandad because, despite his harsh, intolerant, black-and-white views, he’s family. Which, to no great surprise, is really at the core here.

Really too scattered to be as satirical as it obviously wants to be, and losing a little steam into the final act, this nevertheless demonstrates that, yes, Rogen can truly act, and that he’s quite the mensch too.

Reviewer Rating

An American Pickle (PG) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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