Playing dual roles in a movie has been done by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tom Hardy, and Paul Rudd, just to name a few off the top of my head. With “An American Pickle” Seth Rogen joins this group as he plays both modern day Ben Greenbaum, and his pickle brine preserved great-great-grandfather, Herschel Greenbaum. The premise may sound ridiculous to you. That’s because it is. But that’s also part of the fun as this movie embraces elements of eccentric fantasy that 80’s movies would deliver on seemingly a monthly basis.
The story centers on Herschel who’s working at a pickle factory in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. He falls into a vat of pickle brine just as this factory is labeled condemned and shut-down. There Herschel sleeps in this brine that preserves him until he is accidentally awoken by a couple kids 100 years later. He locates his great-great-grandson Ben who coincidentally lives in Brooklyn as well and he goes to live with him to which comedy and heartfelt splashes of drama ensue.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this film. I assumed I would laugh a good amount being a fan of Rogen’s sense-of-humor. The story however was the worrisome part to me. Despite being a fan of 80’s classics with plots even more ludicrous as this one. I was worried that maybe with times being different, and not being the youngster I was in the 80’s, that it could’ve potentially resulted in too cheesy of a story-line to capture my attention. But that wasn’t the case as I enjoyed it much more than predicted.
It isn’t a perfect film and there were some issues I had with it. Yet on the other hand, it did more things right than it had short-comings, which would make the film a success in my opinion. The first thing I think you need to do is go in with some suspension of disbelief to the plot-line. “Weekend at Bernies” wanted you to think two bumbling friends could pull off hiding that Bernie was dead. “Weird Science” expected you to believe a couple of kids could create Kelly LeBrock from a computer.
“An American Pickle” wants you to accept the fact that Herschel was preserved in pickle-brine for a hundred years. And like those movies did, I think this one from there develops a comical narrative. It borrows elements from other films. It does have some typical fish-out-of-water scenarios that land just enough. However it also uses this cliche to craft some genuinely comical moments. Maybe nothing (laugh out loud) but certainly plenty of chuckles and amusement.
The movie also has a strong made for TV feel to it. The camera work is simplistic once the time-line is in the current day. Which did feel noticeable due to the styling of the scenes set in the past. It just had a bit of a generic look to it. The lighting and framing of the shots, added with a story progression that was on the predictable side just resulted in a film that felt a little bit bland in places. Something that was noticeable but not really a hindrance.
As for Rogen I think he did a great job of pulling off dual characters. I would say his current day portrayal of Ben was pretty much Rogen being Rogen. So technically you could say he played one and a half characters in this film. But his performance as Herschel on the other hand, the character that I felt truly drove the story forward, was perfect for the needs of the role. I wouldn’t say he disappeared into the character but her more than effectively brought this time-period character to life. He made many of the routine bits of humor work with his comedic timing and facial expressions. So where he may have lacked in creating an interesting tech-geek in Ben, he did make up for as Herschel.
The story does follow some of the directions you would expect it to. But it’s still serviceable humor for a night at home on the couch. And if you are a fan of Rogen then I’m sure you will enjoy it as he carries the film in more ways than one. There are a couple smaller characters tossed into the mix as well to spice up the attempts at humor. It also pokes fun at trendy city dwelling millennial’s and the oddity of things that take off for the most superficial of reasons which I found amusing.
So if you’re looking for a film that creates a lighthearted atmosphere while still providing laughs and doses of emotional intrigue then give it a shot. Watching Rogen and Rogen find their paths in life, while also getting used to one another, is worth the time. Not all the humor lands but enough of it does, and with an 88-minute run-time it doesn’t keep you around longer than you need to be.
Anthony Digioia – SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved