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An American Pickle Review.jpg

Review: 'An American Pickle' Gives You Twice The Seth Rogen, But Only One Of Them Is Sexy AF

By Tori Preston | Film | August 8, 2020 |

By Tori Preston | Film | August 8, 2020 |


An American Pickle Review.jpg

One of the things I love about Simon Rich’s work is that he leverages silly, high-concept conceits to tell surprisingly resonant, gently humane tales. Take his TBS series, Miracle Workers — an anthology that began with heavenly prayer-answerers scrambling to convince God (Steve Buscemi) not to destroy the world. At first glance, Miracle Workers appeared to be a one-note joke about how the universe was created by a bad manager and humanity is broken beyond saving, except that it was actually a story about… love. The angels fall in love, and they have to help humans fall in love, and love is the inexplicable, impossible thing that makes existence worthwhile. Then in the second season, Miracle Workers pivots into a medieval tale about Steve Buscemi as a sh*t-shoveler and… actually, it looks an awful lot like the first scenes of HBO Max’s An American Pickle. In Pickle, Seth Rogen stars as a poor Jewish ditch-digger named Herschel Greenbaum who immigrates to America with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) after some Cossacks raid his Eastern European village. He scrapes by as a rat-clubber in a Brooklyn pickle factory, until one day he falls into a vat of brine just as the factory is being condemned. And that’s where he remains, perfectly preserved, until he’s discovered 100 years later.

Encino Man but make it pickles” is a silly — and DELICIOUS — concept, but that’s just the hook that draws you into a much more grounded story: What would our ancestors think of the way we live now? Suddenly awakened in the present era, Herschel is reunited with his only living descendant, a mobile app developer named Ben (also played by Rogen), and the pair struggles to find some common ground between their vastly different outlooks on work ethics, religion, and life itself. Herschel, who held dreams of his family finding success in this New World, can’t wrap his head about the banal privileges — unlimited seltzer and socks! — that his great-grandson takes for granted. As for Ben, he is too busy trying to live up to the memory of his deceased parents to shoulder the additional ancestral burden of Herschel’s expectations. Their initial fast bonds fray easily as Herschel finds viral success with his artisanal street pickle business, earning venture investments that should have gone to Ben’s tech start-up. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently, the two men sabotage each other’s pursuits of happiness in increasingly ludicrous ways, until they realize that what actually gives their lives meaning really hasn’t changed that much in the past century.

It’s a uniquely American premise, examining the promise of this land of opportunity from both ends of the spectrum — the people who made sacrifices to get here, and the people who benefitted from those sacrifices in ways they can’t comprehend. And as a comedy, it’s a pleasant diversion — a comfortable chuckle sort of funny, with jokes you see coming a mile away but which satisfy anyway. It’s feels like a perfect streaming movie, lean and gentle and a wonderful way to pass whatever spare time you have while you’re home. Just pick up the remote and hit play. What elevates it, though, is Rogen’s dual performance. He’s always been an actor who manages to be effortlessly funny without coming off an a comedian, and here he uses that fine line to make both Herschel and Ben feel like fully formed three-dimensional humans rather than piles of cheap clichés. They are amusing in relation to each other, not because of who they are as individuals.

Of course, if you watch the movie and find yourself uncomfortably attracted to Herschel and repelled by Ben, then perhaps that can be chalked up to Rogen’s talent as well. There is something about bearded, briny old-timey Seth Rogen that is just a complete and total turn-on — and yes, the fact that I imagined he reeked of pickles for the whole movie is absolutely a part of the appeal. I like what I like (pickled things, generally). Meanwhile, hipster Rogen in his too-short slacks and pedophile glasses is just gross in a way that’s unexpected. You can take men’s streetwear straight from the pages of GQ and put it on Rogen, and the immediate impression is “what a bag of dicks that guy is.” He’s a chameleon, is what I’m saying — and there’s nothing more American than playing “Hot or Not” with the same person, so for the record: Old Timey Seth Rogen is a total stud, and I would totally eat his pickles.




Tori Preston is deputy editor of Pajiba. She rarely tweets here but she promises she reads all the submissions for the "Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything" column at [email protected]. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba



Header Image Source: HBO Max/ Warner Bros Pictures