An American Pickle: Modern Loneliness Meets Sentimental Entrepreneurship

An American Pickle tells the story of Herschel Greenbaum (played by Seth Rogen), a factory worker and Orthodox Jew who finds himself in a very peculiar situation: having been preserved in a vat of pickle brine for 100 years. When Herschel wakes up in modern-day New York City, he connects with his last-remaining relative, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Seth Rogen). During their adventures in acclimating to this new reality, Herschel encounters a vodka billboard that’s erected over his descendants’ graveyard, which reignites his commitment to building a better life (an American dream, if you will) for the legacy of his beloved family.

And the film is everything you’d expect from the trailer, complete with the rare-enough-that-it-still-feels-like-absolute-magic Parent Trap effect of Seth Rogen playing both lead characters. It’s actually probably better than The Parent Trap (Yeah I said it) in that they truly feel like separate characters, you see them as different people. And somehow the modern counterpart of his character made Seth Rogen (the irl human) even more charming and delightful and wholesome and sincere.

I loved how loosely the filmmakers dished out details with an open, confident attitude of “This is a movie, you guys. A comedy! Facts are boring. This doesn’t have to make sense, it is how it is because that’s what we need for this next joke to work. Just go with it!’ vibe.

This comedy-drama offers just light enough commentary on free speech vs twitter culture, ethical consumerism as a viral trend, and the hipster indie vegan artisanal market kids. The film also portrays an interesting twist on immigrant deportation, and the (often ridiculous) perspective and significant impact that the media’s coverage presents. Herschel’s old-timey ‘Oh you’re so stuck in this technology stuff, just get to the groundwork like we always did. Do things with your hands, get out there on the street’ attitude somehow feels more inspiring and empowering / encouraging than condescending.

The corresponding part of the American Pickle storyline that depicts the struggle of a man committed to developing his app to absolute perfection, and the drawbacks of having wrapped his identity in its potential for success —comes with a sense of familiarity, an ode to modern life as we know it. And I genuinely would use Boop Bop, the younger Greenbaum’s in-development app that allows you to enter a company’s name and see a rating of their ethical practices!

The film also shines with an unexpected sense of sentimentality in its spirit of carrying on the Greenbaum family name, finding solace in one’s religion, and the importance of taking the time to mourn a loss. There are still some of the totally-expected nods to Seth Rogen-ness: No weed smoking, but there’s an escape to the promised land, Canada, and a moving tribute to reconnecting with his Jewishness. This line from Empire’s review of the film sums it up quite well: “Part time-travelling family drama, part idiosyncratic immigrant-adventure comedy, An American Pickle’s gags underwhelm, but its emotion and originality will surprise you. One of oddest films of 2020 so far, buoyed by two superb turns from Rogen.”

There were some really lovely, charming moments throughout the film. All-in-all, An American Pickle really is exactly as you’d expect when watching the trailer. So if it appealed to you, go for it, I think you’ll enjoy the film.

Content warnings: The opening scenes of An American Pickle set the history of Hershel’s life by endearing but strikingly casual, sometimes frivolous, depictions of the Cossacks and I seriously think could have been and should have been excluded. If you just skip forward to where the future part begins and start the movie there, you’re good. The story also carries an ongoing narrative of Ben grieving the death of his parents.

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