by Adam Sirdoreus
What would our ancestors think of us? How would they respond to the cultural shift of chasing the American Dream? Would they welcome a newfound sense of self-efficiency with open arms or condemn us for not working “as hard” as they did? These are all reasonably deep questions that I don’t think a lot of us know how to answer. And when I first heard about Seth Rogen’s American Pickle, I didn’t expect the film to tackle any of it. In what could’ve easily been an amusing but typical approach on a fish out of water story where Rogen can play two characters for double the laughs, An American Pickle surprisingly has larger ambitions and more heart than one might expect.
Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), an immigrant who works at a pickle factory, is accidentally preserved at the factory for over 100 years. After two kids stumble upon the abandoned factory and wake him up, he reunites with great-grandson Ben (also Rogen), who works as a computer coder. The film knows how absurd the premise is and pokes fun at its logic multiple times. As I previously stated, this concept seems like it’s ripe for a typical fish out of water story. And it does tackle the jokes you’d expect, such as Herschel being confused by not only the advancement of technology but even society as a whole. But where I think the film surprises is the sincerity of the questions it asks and the care put into displaying the juxtaposition between Herschel and Ben.
What might damage the film for some is that it doesn’t have quite the laugh-a-minute ratio as past Rogen films. It’s PG-13, so immediately feels a bit tamer in terms of content than anything else Rogen has produced in the last few years. But at the same time, I got genuinely invested in the story being told here. Underneath the jokes, there’s a legitimately sweet yet sad tale of two men who feel disconnected from their families, in different ways, and are now suddenly reunited together. It beautifully portrays the complexities of how we can often not understand our ancestors, but how we can always learn from them, and how they can ever learn from us in the most unexpected ways.
Despite a unique premise and a genuinely sweet heart at its core, the film does suffer a bit from feeling somewhat predictable and formulaic. It’s not only formulaic in predictability, but I believe the film had a perfect opportunity to have a defined visual style due to its premise but goes the route of having no defining visual style at all. There comes the point when the film feels like it has blown a lot of its biggest laughs, and it has to lean entirely into the story. And while I enjoyed my time with it and ultimately appreciate it as a whole, I can see how the disjointed feeling of it all can turn some viewers off when they expect to watch a new Seth Rogen comedy.
An American Pickle is far from a traditional Rogen vehicle. Still, warts and all, I found it to be rather charming with two legitimately solid performances from Rogen that differ from each other entirely.