It has nothing to do with this review, but guys: remember going movie theaters? I relish those days…
“An American Pickle” stars Seth Rogen as an immigrant in the 1920s who falls into a vat of pickles and is perfectly preserved for a century, waking up in modern day Brooklyn where he struggles to adapt with the help of his last remaining relative (also played by Rogen). Brandon Trost, who normally acts as cinematographer on Rogen’s projects, makes his solo directorial debut.
Like “The Lovebirds” and “Greyhound,” this was originally going to be a theatrical release before the pandemic hit. The original studio, Sony, sold the rights to Warner Bros., who in-turn made it HBO Max’s first original feature film. With a runtime of just 89 minutes and not your typical raunchy Rogen humor, it’s clear why Sony was willing to part ways with the film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entirely worth your time.
For the longest time, Seth Rogen was one of the funniest men in Hollywood, writing and starring in films such as “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” and “This Is the End.” In recent years he’s been a bit more inconsistent, and has focused more on producing TV shows like “The Boys” and “Preacher.” He has shown with “Steve Jobs” that he is a semi-capable dramatic actor, and he gets to play a sympathetic character akin to his Steve Wozniak here.
Rogen’s depiction of Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern-European immigrant who came to America to start a better life with his family only to wake up in a world without them, is (mostly) gentle and affectionate. We feel bad for this man, and how he lives in a world that no longer values faith and the family structure like he once did.
Rogen also plays Herschel’s great-grandson Ben, and he’s more of the character that we are used to seeing. Although he is not smoking weed or dropping f-bombs (in fact I don’t think there’s a mention of drugs or use of any hard language here at all; it is only PG-13), Rogen gets some laughs with his typical tone and mannerisms (“they’re milking peas now, it’s crazy; you name it, they’re milking it!”).
Having the same actor play different characters is nothing new, so no one is trying to call this a game-changer. When Rogen and Rogen are on screen together sometimes it’s obvious the crew put a double in a hat and shot him from behind, but occasionally both characters will appear in the same frame and it actually is really impressive. It’s about on-par with Armie Hammer playing both Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.”
Trost, a career cinematographer, starts the film in a limited aspect ratio when we’re in the 1920s, expanding to wide screen as we reach present day, and then hits all the typical fish out of water/time travel plot points you’d expect. The film was shot by John Guleserian, and together they have a pretty crisp palette (from “Neighbors” to “The Night Before,” Rogen’s films are typically better-shot than the average studio comedy), even if there isn’t anything crazy or revolutionary about the story beat or the way things are presented.
Running less than 90 minutes (just 82 without credits), “An American Pickle” would be hard to justify paying $15 to see in a theater. But from the comfort of your home (and assuming you have HBO Max), I have watched far worse things during this pandemic, and have killed time in much more regrettable ways.
Critics Rating: 6/10