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Seth Rogen Pulls Surprisingly Sweet Double Duty In “An American Pickle”

There’s a charming weirdness at the core of An American Pickle, the latest Seth Rogen star vehicle. It’s a movie that sounds like it could be either amazing or terrible, depending on the execution. Luckily, Rogen and company give it a steady hand, as well as a singular identity, making the comedy a really enjoyable one. By leaning into the premise and its various possibilities, as opposed to getting bogged down in one specific aspect and solely going for laughs there, it’s a fuller meal, if you’ll pardon the expression. As the first HBO Max cinematic (or, you know, streaming) release, it’s a good get for the company. Out now, it’s quite entertaining.

The film is a comedy, one with a high concept, to boot. 100 years ago, Hershel Greenbaum (Rogen) is a simple gravedigger, one whose dreams of luxury include getting to taste seltzer water. When he meets and successfully woos Sarah (Sarah Snook), they immigrate to America in search of a better life. Pregnant with their child, Sarah is assured by Hershel that in 100 years, their family will be great successes. That night, while working as a laborer in a pickle factory in Brooklyn, he accidentally falls into a vat of brine and is perfectly preserved, only to be unearthed a century later by some kids. A slight media sensation, he’s a curiosity to some, but to his great grandson Ben (Rogen), he’s his only family. Initially, they try to bond, but the app developer and the man out of time do not get along. When events pit them against each other, Hershel seeks to restore the Greenbaum name, in part with a pickle business that goes viral, while Ben deals with his own lack of success, as well as grief. If it sounds like a lot, it’s also told remarkably deftly, all in under 90 minutes. Brandon Trost (a longtime DP for Rogen vehicles) makes his directorial debut, while Simon Rich adapts his own short story into a screenplay. Supporting players include Kalen Allen, Geoffrey Cantor, Molly Evensen, Eliot Glazer, Carol Leifer, Jorma Taccone, and more. John Guleserian handles the cinematography, while the score is by Nami Melumad (with original themes by Michael Giacchino).

Seth Rogen delivers two really nice performances here. His Hershel is abrasive but lovable, really digging into what some of our great-grandfathers could have or would have been like. His Ben, on the other hand, is a mellower version of the standard Rogen character, which makes their back and forth interactions even more effective. He goes for laughs, but he also goes for emotion at times, especially when feelings of grief are brought into play. There’s more here than initially meets the eye, which helps make the film more than a simple fish out of water comedy. It could have worked on those terms, but a little ambition goes a long way here.

An American Pickle is charmingly offbeat and just weird enough to stand out. It’s not out and out hilarious, though it’s definitely funny. It’s never a straight drama, though there are certainly serious moments. There’s also a healthy amount of Jewish humor and Judaism in general, which you don’t often get in mainstream entertainment these days. It really is its own thing, which works to its benefit, but likely proved a bit difficult in trying to initially market, which partly explains the move to HBO Max. Regardless, it’s quality entertainment, and that’s what counts. Director Brandon Trost and writer Simon Rich tell an unusual story in an unusual but accessible manner, grounded by Rogen’s strong work in the flick.

Now playing on HBO Max, An American Pickle should appeal to anyone looking for a high concept comedy to enjoy this weekend. Seth Rogen’s fans will enjoy seeing him stretch a bit, while those curious about the new streaming service have a very solid reason to click it on. Don’t go in expecting a laugh riot or a serious meditation grief, but expect a little bit of a lot of things to wash over you. As long as you’re open to that experience, this movie is really going to work on you.

Be sure to check out An American Pickle, streaming right now on HBO Max!

(Photos courtesy of HBO Max)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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