Remember that period of 2020-2021 when it seemed that every film was being released online due to the lack of faith in the movie theater’s ability to lure people in, post-Covid? Among the onslaught of direct-to-streaming movies was a little talked about release on HBO Max called An American Pickle. The film is notable for being an off-beat, period comedy but also because it featured Seth Rogen in dual roles.
Ab American Pickle tells the story of Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), a Jewish immigrant who falls into a vat of pickles and is essentially pickled for 100 years. Prior to this incident, he lives a fairly typical, if impoverished life with his wife Sarah (Succession’s Sarah Snook). Herschel Greenbaum and his wife Sarah are Eastern European Jewish laborers who are facing hardships. Following an attack on their village by Russian Cossacks, they move to America in 1919. Herschel secures a job at a pickle factory and saves money to purchase two graves at a Jewish cemetery. However, one day while he is working, he falls into a vat of pickles just as the factory is closing due to health concerns, and he becomes pickled for a century.
When he emerges from the brine in present-day Brooklyn, he discovers that he is the last surviving member of his family and the world he knew no longer exists. In a stroke of luck, Herschel is discovered by his only living relative, his great-grandson Ben (also played by Rogen). Ben is a struggling app developer who lives in the same neighborhood where Herschel’s pickle factory once stood. The two men, separated by a century, must navigate the complexities of modern life and family dynamics as Herschel tries to acclimate to the 21st century.
At first, Herschel is fascinated by the advancements he sees around him, marveling at the electric cars and the pocket-sized computers that people carry around. But he is also horrified by the changes he sees, such as the acceptance of premarital sex and the lack of respect for religion. Herschel’s old-fashioned values clash with Ben’s more progressive worldview, leading to several arguments and misunderstandings. Despite their differences, the two men start to bond over their shared history and their love for Herschel’s pickles. Herschel, eager to continue his family’s legacy, decides to reopen his pickle factory and bring back the famous Greenbaum Pickles. With Ben’s help, he begins to sell his pickles at a local farmer’s market, attracting a loyal following and even catching the attention of a big-time investor. But Herschel’s dreams of success are threatened when an article in a local newspaper reveals that he made anti-Semitic remarks during an interview.
The backlash is swift and severe, with protesters picketing the pickle stand and Herschel becoming a pariah in the community. Ben, who is ashamed of his great-grandfather’s comments but still loves him, has to then decide whether to stand by him or cut ties. As the fallout from the scandal intensifies, Herschel and Ben’s relationship becomes strained. Herschel, unable to understand why his words were hurtful, feels betrayed by his great-grandson and the world he now lives in. Ben, torn between his loyalty to Herschel and his own values, struggles to reconcile the past with the present. In the end, Herschel and Ben are able to make peace and move forward together. Herschel realizes that the world has changed, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still make a difference. He accepts that his old-fashioned values may not always align with modern society, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Together, Herschel and Ben continue to sell Greenbaum Pickles, this time with a renewed sense of purpose and understanding.
The score by composer Michael Giacchino is both whimsical and emotive. Giacchino is known for his work on films like Up and Inside Out, and his score for An American Pickle is similarly effective in capturing the film’s mix of comedy and drama.
Rogen delivers a standout performance in dual roles, bringing both Herschel and Ben to life with equal parts humor and heart. Director Brandon Trost does a fine job of balancing the film’s comedic and dramatic moments, creating an entertaining and thought-provoking story. While some may find the film’s themes and humor a bit on the nose, An American Pickle ultimately succeeds thanks to its earnestness and sincerity.
The film doesn’t feature Snook heavily but her pairing with Rogen isn’t as out of the ordinary as one might think. While she does not appear on-screen for long, her character’s relationship with Herschel is pivotal in establishing the values and traditions that drive the plot. Snook brings a quiet strength and dignity to her role, playing Sarah with a sense of warmth and empathy that makes her absence from the film all the more noticeable. Snook’s performance as Sarah adds a layer of depth and emotional resonance to the film, highlighting the importance of family and tradition in a changing world.
For those who may be hard-pressed to find an oddball comedy, An American Pickle serves as a heartwarming and humorous exploration of family, tradition, and the immigrant experience. It may be just what they’re looking for.
Snook is next expected to be seen in Kristin Gore‘s The Beanie Bubble with Zach Galifianakis and Elizabeth Banks and lead the Netflix psychological thriller Run Rabbit Run. Rogen is also staying busy voicing the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem as well as joining frequent collaborator Rose Byrne in AppleTV+’s Platonic.