sat 24/10/2020

An American Pickle review - sweet and sour screwball comedy | reviews, news & interviews

An American Pickle review - sweet and sour screwball comedy

An American Pickle review - sweet and sour screwball comedy

Seth Rogen doubles up for a time-hopping tale that sets the past against the present

Seth Rogen offers up double the laughs by taking on both lead roles in a time-hopping, Rip-Van-Winkle screwball comedy, but with an oddly mixed conservative message about the merits of family and relig

Seth Rogen offers up double the laughs by taking on both lead roles in a time-hopping, Rip-Van-Winkle screwball comedy, but with an oddly mixed conservative message about the merits of family and religion.

The screenplay is based on a four-part New Yorker short story called Sell-Out by Simon Rich. That piece of writing along with other short stories earned him a reputation as a modern-day PG Wodehouse, not to mention being SNLs youngest ever writer and polishing scripts for Pixar. Richs writing is sharp, often high-concept, and very, very funny. But the story has lost some of its zing in translating to the big screen, even with Rich on screenwriting duties and Rogan as the lead. 

Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish ditch digger, forced to flee his homeland with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) when a murderous gang of  "Jew-hungry Cossacks" go on the rampage. They head to New York where Herschel finds work killing rats in a Williamsburg pickle factory, and Sarah becomes pregnant. Then disaster strikes, and Herschel is trapped in a vat of pickles where he is preserved until waking up in Brooklyn in the 21st Century. Its here he meets Ben (also Rogen), his last surviving descendant, who works as a freelance app developer, dresses like he maxed out his credit card in Urban Outfitters and has a fridge full of kombucha. Seth Rogan stars as Ben and Herschel GreenbaumWhen Herschels pride is wounded by Bens rejection of family values, he decides to set up a pickle business to prove to Ben that family must come first. Ben is less than pleased when the pickle business is a big hit, so sets about sabotaging Herschels plans. 

A lot of the laughs rely on the culture clash between Ben and Herschel. Its an old-fashioned Hollywood trick employed in '80s comedies like Coming to America or Back to the Future, but its still effective. Here the jokes are down to Herschels reactions to the modern world, including discovering Twitter, and essentially becoming a beardy-Trump in a workers cap. 

Bens character is relatively thin, and in the film’s second half Herschel becomes little more than a canvas to explore cancel culture, social media, and fashion fads. The film seems to want to have its pickle and eat it, praising some traditional values, but not condemning others, in a film that’s too frothy to handle such a debate. 

American Pickle might be hoisted by its own silliness, but its full of cracking one-liners, a fun concept, and Rogen holds it all together. 

@JosephDAWalsh

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