“An American Pickle” stars Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Eliot Glazer, and Jorma Taccone. Released on HBO Max on August 6, 2020, the film is about a laborer from the 1920s who finds himself in the future.
The film is directed by Brandon Trost, who is known for writing and directing “The FP” with Jason Trost. He also served as a cinematographer for films like “Crank: High Voltage”, “MacGruber”, and “That’s My Boy”. It is based on the 2013 short story “Sell Out” by Simon Rich, who also wrote the film. Can you imagine meeting your relative from the past in person? It sounds odd at first, but it would’ve been way cooler than wasting your money on studying your family tree at Ancestry. For those who are living underneath a rock, WarnerMedia introduced the world to its own streaming service called HBO Max back in May, which offers a bunch of content from HBO, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, DC, Studio Ghibli, and so much more. It is also the home to plenty of shows that are made exclusively to the streaming service like “Love Life”, “Looney Tunes Cartoons”, “Close Enough”, and “Craftopia”. However, it appeared that the streaming service is severely lacking some content in the “original film” department like the other major streaming services, aside from the documentary “On the Record”. That all changes today as we finally have the first original film to debut on HBO Max, and it’s from the guys that delivered the laughs and the feels with the likes of “The Disaster Artist” and “Long Shot”. This latest comedy-drama will put HBO Max to the test to see if the streaming service is another respectable option for original films. After all, we are getting the Zack Snyder cut of “Justice League” sometime next year. With that in mind, let’s see if this “pickle” is worth a bite.
Set in the 1920s, the story follows Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), an Ashkenazi Jew who immigrates to America with his beloved wife Sarah Greenbaum (Snook) in order to build a better life. While working at a pickle factory, Hershel accidentally falls into a vat of pickles, causing him to be brined for a century. When he wakes up in modern-day Brooklyn, he attempts to get comfortable with modern society while befriending his relative Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), who happens to be the last remaining descendent of the Greenbaum family tree. When it comes to comedy and drama, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the producers of the film) are usually the best options to go to as they understand that crafting a good story is just as important as conjuring up some laughs. You also got Brandon Trost, who has worked with Rogen as a cinematographer for films like “Neighbors”, “The Interview”, and “The Night Before”. These three people, combined with a fish-out-of-water story, would’ve made this film another solid home run, but instead, it wound up being as revolting as a bag of rotten pickles in the dumpster. While there is some sort of effort in getting its sentimental message across, the film clearly had no idea how to take the concept even further, which is mostly due to its questionable runtime. The film is close to being an hour and 30 minutes long, which didn’t sound too bad at first, but after watching it, I can definitely see that they could’ve add in a lot more elements into its plot. After a promising first act, the film just sort of gave up in taking risks and making the concept more fun and endearing. Simon Rich’s screenplay felt unsatisfying because of his inability to flesh out the characters even more, and first-time director Brandon Trost struggled to make the mixture of comedy and drama work in his favor. There were plenty of jokes in the film that could’ve been hilarious, especially the ones that involve politics. Unfortunately, like the drama elements, the execution on the comedy was undoubtedly disappointing. It’s not as cringe-inducing as the comedy from “Neighbors 2”, but it was pretty forgettable. The only saving grace that kept it from being one of the worst films of the year was Seth Rogen’s dual performance as Herschel and Ben respectively. Even though it’s not his best performance yet, I have to give him credit for providing his own sense of depth and charm into his characters without making them either offensive or overly cheesy. I think if we get to know these characters a bit more, especially Ben, Rogen’s performance would’ve been enough to overshadow some of its distracting flaws.
Overall, “An American Pickle” has plenty of good ideas in its vat of pickles, but fails to capitalize on them. As a result, it wound up being a salty pickle with an underwhelming flavor. Despite Seth Rogen’s dual performance and its heartfelt message, the film lacked the tremendous taste it was going for, which sucks considering the talented people behind the camera. Due to its aimless plot, bland jokes, and an unsatisfying script, this is one of the most disappointing films that Rogen and Goldberg had ever produced. This isn’t a great start for HBO Max when it comes to their original films, but that doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel just yet. The streaming service still has a few more films to release in the future, so I’m hoping that one of them will be a lot better than this. It’s worth watching for Rogen’s performance and that’s about it.