Review: An American Pickle (2020)

Director: Brandon Trost
Screenwriter: Simon Rich
Starring: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone, Eliot Glazer, Molly Evensen
Genres: Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language and rude humor
Best Line: “This is what we’re reaching for, everybody. This is the dream. This is the goal. Perfect jar of pickles.”
Release Date: 8/6/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Where to Watch: HBO Max

An American Pickle is one of those movies that is enjoyable to watch but you don’t expect it to exceed expectations — which, for the most part, it doesn’t. And, as the first film released exclusively on new streaming service HBO Max (of which I am now a subscriber), the expectations weren’t all that high. However, I was intrigued to see a film with dual performances from Seth Rogen, who has been giving us great [primarily comedic] performances for over a decade.

Fortunately, Rogen does not disappoint, and it’s an admirable trait to be able to pull off two vastly different roles. As the man-out-of-time Herschel Greenbaum, Rogen is at his manic, hysterical best, even using a convincing European accent. Hershel provides the majority of the film’s comedy, even when the fish-out-of-water story delves into hokey territory. And, as Herschel’s modern-day ancestor, who’s a web-app developer, Rogen gets to display his more dramatic, emotional acting chops. There’s a surprising amount of drama in this film that has been billed as, and is, at its heart, a comedy. The heavier moments don’t always stick the landing, but Rogen’s commitment is laudable. Also, I’m always impressed with the technical prowess necessary to make this sort of thing work, and of course the requirement for able stand-ins. 

The plot is fairly basic and fantastically, really; the concept that someone could be preserved in brine for 100 years is hardly realistic, but that makes for fairly entertaining material. Fortunately, too, the scenes are fast-paced enough to avoid boredom. The script, penned by Simon Rich (and based on his own short story), smartly combines the old and new, making for some interesting (and, at times, inappropriate) culture clashes. I was fairly disappointed with the ending, which only had one of the characters undergo any sort of evolution or change. The end is more cute and uneventful, as opposed to other sorts of fantastical movies, which tend to end with a bang. 

While some elements of the narrative are predictable, others aren’t, which keeps things from being too stale. That said, I couldn’t help but think there was something missing from the story, perhaps a character, event, and/or emotion. But, to be fair, this is the type of movie that isn’t meant to be extraordinary or say anything that hasn’t already been said. What it really comes down to is the importance of family, and holding onto what and who you have.