Seth Rogen’s double role is fresh, but he finds himself in a pickle.
Seth Rogen delivers two of his best performances in “An American Pickle” as both a Jewish immigrant from 1919 and as his great grandson in 2020. This comedy actor is able to have serious roles like in “50/50,” “Take This Waltz,” and “Steve Jobs,” and he can have a sincere side to himself.
Unfortunately, “An American Pickle” sells itself short by starting off good and then taking a wrong turn in a rivalry game.
In the first act, Rogen is Herschel Greenbaum, who, in the past, met his love Sarah (Sarah Snook) in his old country, immigrated to America, and falls in a pickle vat, which he has been brined for 100 years. He, then, meets his only remaining relative Ben, a struggling app developer, who is working on an app that allows users to make sure companies are legit.
And in the second act, and this was a real letdown, Sarah’s grave has been desecrated by a vodka company billboard, which Herschel thinks is run by the Cossacks. And when he and Ben get arrested for attacking the construction workers setting up the billboard, Ben can’t get his app on the market, and chews Herschel out. So, the old timer decides to make his own pickle business and prove to the kid that he is an idiot for shutting him down.
So, the unnecessary rivalry forces Ben to call the health department on him, trick him into using Twitter to say controversial things, and disguise his voice at a seminar (which I thought was funny in the way he nearly sounds like Sammy Davis Jr.) to get him to slam the Virgin Mary. This leads to the man being targeted for deportation.
“An American Pickle” is the directorial debut of Brandon Trout, a frequent collaborator with Rogen (“This is the End,” “Neighbors”), who does a professional job of having the right people convince us that Rogen and Rogen are both in the same room together. And the movie was also based on a short story called “Sell Out” by Simon Rich, who also wrote the screenplay. As much as I admired Rogen’s double role, I thought it was a missed opportunity.
Did we really need this business rivalry? Is it obligatory that the dreamer intends to slam the other one in the face of his business becomes a success, let alone the other fighting back? Why couldn’t the movie satirize on traditional Jewish life the way “Kingpin” pokes fun at the Amish? Why couldn’t it have Herschel and Ben collaborate on the pickle business, instead of taking place only the last scene? And why couldn’t they introduce the old timer to time-travel movies, with or without the freezing process?
It probably would have been racial, obvious, and routine, I don’t know, but I still would have enjoyed to see how they would play out.
Rogen provides the sweetness inside his two characters when they’re not in rivalry mode, and there were a few moments that tickled me. He wins us over when his Herschel character is able to see the spark and heart inside Ben, and when the latter learns about his great grandfather’s roots. But so much more or less could have been done with his characters.
This is such a good idea for a Seth Rogen comedy, but it ends up being trivialized.
Available on HBO Max