(director: Brandon Trost; screenwriter: from the short story Sell Out by Simon Rich/Simon Rich; cinematographer: John Guleserian; editor: Lisa Zeno Churgin; music: Michael Giacchino/Nami Melumad; cast: Sarah Snook  (Sarah Greenbaum), Molly Evensen (Clara), Eliot Glazer (Christian), Kalen Allen (Kevin), Seth Rogen (Herschel Greenbaum/Ben Greenbaum), Kevin O’ Rourke (Dane Brunt), Sean Whalen (Scientist), Carol Leifer (Susan Greenbaum), Geoff Cantor (David Greenbaum), Darryl Bailey Smith II (Teenage Drone Operator); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Evan Goldberg/Seth Rogen/James Weaver; HBO Max; 2020)

“Its attempt at social satire was as sour as a kosher pickle.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature directing debut for cinematographer Brandon Trost needs some kraut on it for more taste. It’s a cheeky fantasy story mixed with a mild family comedy, that’s less funny than cloyingly sentimental (in fact, I found its attempt at social satire was as sour as a kosher pickle). It’s unevenly directed and at times mechanically written by Simon Rich, the author of the short story Sell Out that he adapts for the screen. In 2013, The New Yorker first published it. Seth Rogen, a loudmouth actor I never cared for, in his most mature performance, less of a stoner manchild character than previously, plays dual leads. If you like his performance, you will probably like the film.

Despite being diverting as a middle-brow high-concept film, the breezy comedy is forgettable whether in Russian, Yiddish or English. It offers a goofy spin on Fiddler on the Roof, a play and movie I kvelled over despite its schmaltz.

In 1919, in Eastern Europe, the poor ditch-digger Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) marries the pretty Sarah (Sarah Snook) and brings her to America just in time to flee from another Cossack raid in the shtetl (Jewish part of town). In America, he yearns only to drink seltzer and finds work in a Brooklyn pickle factory killing rats by clubbing them. When in America, Herschel  tumbles into a pickle barrel by accident and gets preserved in the brine. A century later a drone, operated by a teen (Darryl Bailey Smith II), crashes into the condemned Brooklyn factory and knocks the cover off the barrel. Holy Cow!, Herschel’s alive, and he hasn’t aged.

Herschel then finds out that Ben (also Rogen), his great-grandson, is his last remaining descendant and is his same age.

The nerdy hipster Ben rejects his Old World religion but loves seltzer. The computer-coder comes up with an
an app for the ethically conscientious consumer, but inadvertently Herschel causes a brawl in the cemetery where Sarah is buried and Ben’s app deal is kaput.

His anger over the cemetery incident spurs
Herschel on to be a successful pickle entrepreneur of artisan pickles, as it becomes the rave in social media. But a rift develops between the relatives, as Ben tries to sabotage the pickle-maker’s business to repay him for destroying his business opportunity. The plot now becomes plodding, as it revolves around the nasty rift between Ben and Herschel. It gets played out by showing how the Greenbaums value different cultures, as Herschel is tuned into the Old World Jewish religion and Ben to the New World’s.

Seth Rogen in An American Pickle

REVIEWED ON 8/10/2020  GRADE: C+