IR Film Review: AN AMERICAN PICKLE [HBO Max]

The element of Seth Rogen’s humor has always reflected in the aspect of material he both acts in and produces (with which he is proficient). Another actor that does this albeit in a different way is Brad Pitt who knows the right material that both fits his brand but also angles into his taste and ambition. It is unusual that he hasn’t directed yet. Rogen and Evan Goldberg, his producing partner, have been part of the force behind such TV series as “Preacher” on AMC and “The Boys” currently on Amazon. His movie angles have been getting a little more specific in playing on the edge of his sandbox lately while still pushing him on the point of the every-man. “The Long Shot” was an effective movie since he knows placing himself against an actress like Charlize Theron but breaking it down to his strengths and showing new sides to her (which were always there) is a good move. Rogen understands how to share the screen and be generous, even when he is playing against himself.

The premise of “An American Pickle” reflects this literally. Ben’s great grandfather returns to modern day Brooklyn because of a pickle mishap. If you actually think of it, the set up is very heartbreaking yet disturbingly and wonderfully nonsensical. But the way Rogen sets it up (since he plays both characters of the great grandson and great grandfather) is the heart. And it is there from the beginning in the scenes in 1911. It literally is some of Rogen’s best acting because it feels real. He is, of course, channeling Topol from “Fiddler On The Roof” but it is not like he breaks out into song. The irony and humor resides in the fact that the great grandfather Herschel is out of time and out of sorts but he is not out. He works his butt off which again is part of metaphor of what the movie drives towards. Herschel as a character is both a revelation but also a throwback of non-PC elements that are frowned upon in the current world.

Rogen leans into this in the script and performance since he knows that this character however far it goes has the possibility of redemption if his heart is pure even if his ways of understand the world and thinking aren’t. Balance this with certain angle of vindictiveness from someone who is literally himself and it is actually quite a cool little tome. It would have done well in a theater but it seems almost abrasive comfort food in a way for COVID. Just simple story and belly laughs. Rogen doesn’t even mention weed in the movie once. He can do it without that reference. There is no CG and yet Rogen himself is the special effect since he is playing against himself which required that to look effortless. The ebb and flow is nice but also comments on the social consciousness currently and is prescient of any things (as this was shot before the pandemic).

Like “Greyhound” which went to Apple from Sony, this was originally made for the studio who has always let Rogen try things (look at “The Interview”). Without getting too heavily into plot specifics, the pickle structure is actually a literal thing which reflects in the idea of success and the American Dream. It is actually fairly timeless in its delivery despite some app references. But the reason it works is because of the heart. it is almost hard to imagine that it is Rogen dong both but it is. But interestingly enough it is Herschel that is the revelation because despite the face, as a viewer you really don’t see Rogen which makes the progression that much more interesting. The mid credits scene is also a great throw back with a really nice and funny shout out to a former co-star.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

Posted on August 6, 2020, in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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