An American Pickle

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

An American Pickle
dir Brandon Trost
scr Simon Rich
prd Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver
with Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen, Jorma Taccone, Geoffrey Cantor, Carol Leifer, Kalen Allen, Eliot Glazer, Kevin O'Rourke, Sean Whalen, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Joanna Adler
release US/UK 7.Aug.20
20/US Warner 1h30

sw evensen taccone

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Slapstick, fantasy and social satire mix uneasily this breezy comedy. It's nicely written and directed, and well-played by Seth Rogen as dual leads, but the film never quite finds its voice. While the opening is funny, the middle is pointed and the ending warmly endearing. The filmmakers rely on lazy shorthand at each step along the way, which leaves the film gently enjoyable and rather forgettable.
In 1919 Eastern Europe, Herschel (Rogen) falls in love with Sarah (Snook) and brings her to America to escape a Cossack invasion and make the family fortune. Then he's accidentally pickled in a barrel of gherkins. A century later, he wakes up in New York and finds out that his last remaining descendant is his age: Ben (also Rogen), a hipster nerd developing an ethical app. After wrecking Ben's career, Herschel storms off to create a pickle empire, going viral with his reclaimed artisan products. So now Ben wants to put Herschel in his place.
The premise offers some terrific fish-out-of-water observations of present-day society from a century-old perspective, but instead of looking for bits of old world wit and wisdom, the script merely plays up offensive attitudes and personal grudges. The story then veers into a heavy-handed satire, poking fun at cancel culture and the fragmentation of families, losing the characters in the process. Thankfully, they come back for a sentimental final act that digs into Jewish traditions and the need to deal with inner pain in order to better connect with each other.

Rogen plays both of these characters sharply, although neither is ever truly likeable. Both men are grumpy and selfish, sabotaging each other instead of seeking common ground. Herschel is cartoonish, with his Yiddish accent, brusque manner and anachronistic Fiddler on the Roof costume (which remains immaculate even when he's living rough). Ben is more sympathetic, but is actually just as callous in his willingness to inflict pain. None of the surrounding characters is developed at all, as each is only here to provide a plot point.

The film has an easy, effortless ambience, simply because it's photographed and edited with skill, and Rogen is always watchable, even when he's playing two guys who aren't easy to like. If the filmmakers had also paid more attention to creating a more coherent thematic through-line, the movie might have come together into something much more involving, lending some comical urgency to its silly set-pieces. At least final act musters up some emotional resonance.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 4.Aug.20

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