Film review: An American Pickle

Seth Rogen's most Jewish film yet - and it left Linda Marric misty-eyed


Seth Rogen puts in two exceptional turns in his most Jewish film yet as he stars in new absurdist comedy An American Pickle. He plays both a Jewish pickle-factory worker accidentally preserved for 100 years and the great-grandson he is aquatinted with in 21st New York.

Adapted by New Yorker humorist and Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich from his short story Sell Out, An American Pickle is the directorial debut feature from prolific cinematographer Brandon Trost (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile). The films is one of the first big summer productions to be released in cinemas in the UK since the start of lockdown at the end of March.

The year is 1919. After being driven out of Eastern Europe by violent Cossacks  who murdered their extended families and everyone they loved, Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) and his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) arrive in Brooklyn, New York in search of a new beginning. Hired to work at a pickle factory, Herschel dreams of hitting the big time - the pinnacle of luxury for him is to taste Seltzer water at least once in his life. Herschel’s life on the factory floor is short-lived when he falls into a vat of pickle and ends preserved for 100 years.

Waking up from his long slumber, Herschel soon realises that his beloved Sarah and the son he never got to meet are both long dead and that his only surviving relative is his great-grandson Ben (also played by Rogen) a Brooklyn hipster who works as an app developer.  As a secular Jew, Ben has very little interest in Herschel’s backward and dated ideas and soon becomes frustrated with him.  All hell breaks loose when the two spectacularly fall out and proceed to make each others lives a misery.

As high concept ideas go, one couldn’t have dreamt up a more absurd or preposterous story than An American Pickle, yet for all its ludicrous twists and turns, somehow it works. Simon Rich’s incisive and frighteningly smart writing reveals a beautiful intricate and timely humanist message about where the world is at right now. From “cancel culture” to ridiculous hispter fads, Rich handles every subject broached here with unbridled maturity and outstanding comedic flair.

Herschel is presented as a great reminder of where we all came from and where we are heading. Rogen’s genius lies in his ability to offer two side of the same coin in this fantastically well observed comedy of errors. There are some very touching moments towards the end which, if you’re a soft touch like me, will leave you misty-eyed and with a huge amount of hope for what’s to come.

Seth Rogen nails it once again. His likability and comic timing coupled with a great high concept idea makes this into so much more than the film’s initial premise. Genuinely outstanding work from all involved and another hit for Rogen.

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