The 400-Word Review: American Pickle
By Sean Collier
August 7, 2020

An American Pickle

I would certainly accept a 100-year float in pickle brine at this point in 2020. And I don’t even like pickles.

A century-long salty nap is the inciting incident of “An American Pickle,” an enjoyable and light-footed comedy starring Seth Rogen. It’s a welcome reminder that, for all of our numerous faults, the present is usually more tolerant than the past — and even a bit more equitable. Our society has deep, abiding problems, but as “American Pickle” reminds us, access to seltzer and decent socks is at an all-time high.

The preserved pre-war protagonist is Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), an immigrant from the fictional European nation of Schlupsk. He and his beloved wife (Sarah Snook) have fled persecution and settled in Brooklyn, where Herschel has a solid job smashing rats at a pickle factory. When he tumbles into a vat of brine at the precise moment the factory is condemned, he’s held in briney stasis for 100 years.

He wakes to find only one living relative, a great-grandson named Ben (Rogen, again). Ben’s life as a kombucha-drinking app developer is baffling to Herschel; determined to restore honor to the family, he launches an artisanal pickle business, complete with buzzy trend stories and an army of unpaid interns.

“An American Pickle” is a bit too breezy to justify some of its plot developments, particularly in an oddly sinister second act. And, while its potshots at modern life are accurate (after someone tells Herschel what an intern is, he deadpans, “You mean slaves”), they’re also easy.

Yet the film is surprisingly tender, particularly in gently handling the grief experienced by its leads. Herschel can’t believe that his beloved wife has been dead for 80 years; Ben lost his parents in a car accident, a trauma that has informed most of his decisions. The role that family and, reluctantly, faith play in mourning is at the core of “An American Pickle.”

The humor may be broad for a fundamentally grounded film — okay, a fundamentally grounded film about a guy preserved in pickle brine — but director Brandon Trost gets a lot of well-timed laughs out of his setups and his star. Trost is jumping to the director’s chair after a long run as a cinematographer, including work on effective comedies including “Popstar” and “The Disaster Artist.” Fortunately, it seems he spent those years taking notes on how to helm an endearing comedy.

My Rating: 8/10

“An American Pickle” is now streaming on HBO Max.