HBO Max proves to be a powerhouse of streaming entertainment. Not only does this new and improved version of HBO shine with movies, the entire library of HBO series, hubs from DC, Sesame Workshop, TCM (including a library of Criterion titles), Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network, adult swim, crunchyroll and Looney Tunes, it also has HBO Max originals. One of those being a priceless performance from Seth Rogen in An American Pickle. Now, did you ever think a Seth Rogen performance would stand out as an Emmy possibility or even an Oscar? We use to say the same about his friend, Jonah Hill, and he’s been nominated twice. Well, don’t be surprised if Rogen is nominated, and it will be well deserved.
An American Pickle was supposed to be a theatrical release by Sony, but after COVID-19 hit, the film rights were sold to Warner Bros. It was digitally released in August with a theatrical release in the United Kingdom. The movie is taken from a short story, The Sell Out, written by Simon Rich, who expanded upon it for the big (or in this case small) screen with first-time director Brandon Troost, better known as a cinematographer for The Disaster Artist and This is the End.
All three, Rich,Troost and Rogen, work their magic on this delightful comedy/drama/fantasy. The fantasy aspect is light, but both the comedy and drama are beautifully woven together with Seth Rogen in a dual role as both his own great grandfather and great grandson. And, even though the film is heavy on its ethnicity, all could relate to the emphasis on family. Some may consider it a bit on the schmaltzy side, but that’s what makes the film so endearing.
The story opens a 100 years ago in the little Eastern European village, Schlupsk, where Jewish ditch digger Herschel Greenbaum struggles to make a living. He relates the woes of his life, and Rogen cannot help but remind us of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. He’s priceless as the sweet, proud and easily angered Herschel. His life changes with one glance at the downtrodden Sarah, played with sincerity and humility with another beautiful performance by Sarah Snook, so memorable in Predestination. It is a small part, but just her presence makes the character stand out.
Herschel is determined to marry Sarah and have a family that will prosper throughout the generations. But, his dream is short lived when he accidentally falls into a vat of pickles. With the building suddenly condemned, Herschel is trapped in the vat and brined for 100 years. He is accidentally released in the present and is made a minor celebrity, but heartbroken that just about everyone he knew is dead. Herschel is then told that his great grandson has been located, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), and they will be united.
What starts off sweet and funny takes a slight turn to the dramatic when Herschel touches upon faith and memories of the past. The interaction between the two is so seamlessly realistic. Rogen captures our heart as Herschel and at the same time takes us a step back with some of his political incorrectness that 100 years ago where he came from was perfectly acceptable. Rogen as Ben plays more of a straight man and a bit of a douche when he turns on his great grandfather. Realize this, both are playing the same age for Herschel was brined about the age of what Ben is now, but they could not be more different. However, there are compassionate moments between the two.
Rich, Troost and Rogen deliver a wonderful mix of big laughs and reflective moments that at times may move you to tears. Rogen shines in this fish out of water story. Technically the film is flawless. We lose sight of the fact that Rogen is playing both parts. He actually comes across like two totally different people. And, he’s not just playing an old stubborn Jewish man, he is living and breathing it. A very impressive performance.
An American Pickle is a complete joy to watch with the whole family. Simon Rich, a gifted writer from SNL, has taken what could have been easily an expanded SNL skit made stale and turned it into a refreshing tale of family, love, faith and hope. The laughs are sometimes subtle and at other times patently hilarious. If you do not have HBO Max, now would be a good time to check it out to see the pickle Rogen gets into.
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Directed by: Brandon Troost
Release Date: August 6, 2020
Run Time: 88 Minutes
Distributor: HBO Max