An American Pickle
Brandon Trost's An American Pickle is obvious social commentary on America's cancel culture, anchored by a weirdly straight-faced Seth Rogen playing double-role duties. The film isn't all that funny, nor is it eye-opening in its not-so-subtle jabs at the world's current state. This is far from premium exclusive HBO Max content.
Director Brandon Trost and writer Simon Rich‘s An American Pickle has landed exclusively on HBO Max, featuring Seth Rogen playing double duties as the leading stars in a film about a man that’s been trapped in pickle brine for 100 years and is suddenly thrown face-first into 2020 American culture. An American Pickle isn’t all that funny in its approach, leaning heavily on poking fun at cancel culture and America’s absurd sensitivity as the film’s leading character is trying to live a simple life, surrounded by unneeded (and unwanted) complexities.
Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) was once a simple man, living in the early 1900s with his wife, working in an American pickle factory after moving away from his home of Schlupsk.
Suddenly, he’s awaken after having spent the last 100 years perfectly preserved in pickle brine. Everyone he knew and loved is long gone, with the only relative left being his great grandson Ben (also Seth Rogen). Ben is a struggling app developer trying to make it big, now faced with introducing his long-lost relative to the modern world, before quickly butting heads over ideas, beliefs and how they should carry on living their lives.
An American Pickle is an obvious poke at America’s current climate of cancel culture, with Herschel getting hung up to dry on more than one occasion. If you thought the main joke of the film was the fact that a man could come out alive after spending 100 years in pickle brine, then you’ve got another thing coming — because An American Pickle waives that one off pretty quickly (much like most would) as it takes Herschel and Ben on an adventure of good old-fashioned rivalry.
Herschel goes into the pickle-selling business rather quickly, charging an absurd amount of money for one pickle, promising that it’s fresh and with no preservatives. The more Herschel learns and adapts to our culture, the more his old ways come out and he quickly makes friends and then turns those friends into enemies.
Director Brandon Trost and writer Simon Rich keep An American Pickle feeling very light and limber, rarely stopping to actually address the issues that come up, instead offering up a quick quip or a silly joke in exchange for any actual depth. The material hits you over the head like a club, with star Seth Rogen playing things oddly straight-faced, almost embracing the weirdness of this entire project without ever actually being worried about trying to achieve something of value.
It’s not to say that An American Pickle is completely dumb or without clever commentary, but man did it feel obvious and on-the-nose for a bulk of the running time. And maybe that was the point — to attack such violent and blind remarks with simple, yet obvious intentions that are rarely mean-spirited or coming from a bad place, but instead just a different mindset.
Herschel isn’t a bad man. In fact, he’s a religious and family-rooted man just trying to make an honest living and bring pride to his family name. Back then, this was seen as the typical American, while in our modern age some might consider this character offensive or outdated. Rogen’s ability to play both sides is serviceable and noble, but not exactly a far extension past a quick SNL clip or even a Funny Or Die skit.
The film has several gags that could have made for some comedic gold, including Herschel’s introduction to Twitter, a debate with a local politician and even Herschel hiring “interns” to help run is pickle operation and while all of these moments include comedic elements — none leave a lasting impression beyond the initial joke of “oh look, a man from 100 years ago is thrown into yet another awkward situation. Let’s see how offensive he can be.”
An American Pickle is an odd movie for HBO Max to land exclusive rights to. Odd in the sense that I doubt this film would have generated any cash if it landed a widespread theatrical release (pre-COVID), but also odd in the sense that HBO usually prides themselves on such high quality content and while An American Pickle is definitely unique — I wouldn’t call it the type of flagship content that is going to bring in new customers by the dozens.
An American Pickle is as stinky and bitter as a real jar of pickles. For some, its pungent aroma and flavor might be exactly what they are looking for, while others will surely plug their nose and walk as far away from this movie as possible. I already have HBO Max as part of a bundle through my phone service, which makes this watch mostly just a disappointing way to kill a few hours.