“An American Pickle” is a mildly pickled product which gives some nice laughs occasionally but never fully develops its supposedly rich comic promise. While it is not a total bore at all thanks to its lead actor’s amusing dual performance, the movie feels deficient in terms of story and characters as abruptly going back and forth between comedy and drama too often, and it is all the more disappointing that the story eventually comes to resolve everything too hastily during its final 10 minutes.
At the beginning, we are introduced to Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), a poor menial laborer who lives in a small Jewish town located somewhere in Russia, 1919. Although things do not go well for him usually, Herschel does not give up his hope and dream at all, and he becomes all the more determined to make his life better after encountering a young and attractive Jewish girl on one day. Although she is not particularly interested in him at first, Herschel works harder for winning her heart in the end, and they subsequently marry under the blessing from their neighbors.
However, shortly after their humble but blissful marriage, their town happens to be attacked by a bunch of brutal Russian Cossack soldiers, and that prompts Herschel and his wife to emigrate to US. Once they settle in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, Herschel gets employed at a local pickle factory, and he becomes more hopeful about his life after coming to learn that his wife is pregnant now.
Alas, again, things do not go that well for him. While trying to get rid of those pesky rodents in the pickle factory, Herschel happens to be dropped right into one of the big wooden pickle tanks in the factory, and the factory is promptly closed right after his accident, which incidentally has his unconscious body preserved well along with cucumbers in that wooden pickle tank for next 100 years.
When he finally wakes up in 2019, Herschel finds himself more baffled and devastated than, say, Rip Van Winkle. While he surely draws lots of public interest for his miraculous survival, he feels depressed as coming to learn that his wife and their kid passed away many years ago, and it also turns out that he has only one close relative at present.
That person in question is Ben Greenbaum, who is incidentally also played by Seth Rogen without Herschel’s bushy facial hair and thick accent. When Ben and Herschel meet each other for the first time, the mood is fairly cordial between them, and Ben is willing to help his great-grandfather adjust himself to many changed aspects of New York City, though Herschel does not look that odd compared to that colorful diversity of the city.
Having lived alone in his apartment since his parents’ accidental death, Ben has been working on a certain online application software, but his sincere efforts during last five years are understandably not appreciated much by Herschel, and that naturally generates the tension between them. While wisely avoiding overacting especially in case of Herschel, Rogen did a good job of presenting the convincing interactions between his two characters, and we can really accept their generational conflict even while laughing for Herschel’s seriously outdated viewpoint.
Eventually, Herschel walks away from his great-grandson for demonstrating that he can survive and earn some money for himself, and the screenplay by Simon Rich, which is based on his short story “Sell Out”, subsequently serves us a series of ironic moments for our amusement. As a guy who does know how to make high-quality homemade pickles, Herschel soon comes to find a very cheap way to produce and sell pickles, and, what do you know, his pickles quickly become quite popular once they happen to catch the attention of an influential blogger.
As Herschel’s pickles virtually go viral on the Internet, Ben becomes more exasperated and frustrated, and he accordingly attempts to sabotage his great-grandfather’s promising business enterprise. At one point later in the story, he deliberately gets Herschel interested in social media, and, not so surprisingly, Herschel comes to pay a heavy price for not so being careful with his words on the Internet, though that is nothing compared to when he happens to blurt out something quite offensive to both conservatives and liberals in the American society.
Around that narrative point, the movie seems to be ready to go further for more satire, but director Brandon Trost and his star only come to hesitate instead during its middling last act. Sure, Herschel and Ben come to have a moment of mutual understanding in the end, but this moment feels rather sappy and contrived to say the least, and I was also quite disappointed with the under-utilization of the other main cast members in the film including Sarah Nook, who was utterly fantastic in “Predestination” (2014) but is mostly stuck in her thankless supporting role here.
Despite ending up being a waste opportunity, “An American Pickle” has some good flavors to be savored, but I still think Trost, Rich, and Rogen could take their time more for enriching their materials. The overall result does not taste bad at all, but it could be juicier and pungent, so I advise you not to expect much from it.