Written by: Simon Rich
Starring: Seth Rogen & Sarah Snook, Eliot Glazer, Jorma Taccone, Kalen Allen
As time continues, society evolves with it, which leaves the onus on the people to join the bandwagon or look outdated in the process. This gets seen all the time with older generations trying to hold onto what worked in their time even with the different environments surrounding them now. Now, take this idea and make it with a relative who has been brined in pickle juice for 100 years and must now find a way to succeed in a vastly different world and you get An American Pickle.
Having been just released from a massive vat of pickle juice, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) now wakes up a century later and connects with his great-grandson Ben (Seth Rogen). Now having to navigate with his old ways in a vastly different world, the pair butt heads as Herschel believed his family line would amount to more, and Ben sees his great-grandfather ruining all his means for advancement.
People brine turkeys, a variety of meats, and cucumbers for their flavor but preserving someone through an entire century serves as its own accomplishment for this seasoning style. Certainly a ridiculous premise but it brings forth the idea of what it means for vastly different generations of family members to come together and clash over their specific time periods. Herschel and Ben certainly look similar with them being portrayed by the same actor but their attitudes towards life could not be any more different. In Herschel’s time, everything needed to be done physically and specific milestones in life defined success, which included marriage, a stable job, and the raising of children. In the 21st century, these benchmarks do not have the same definition as success comes in various forms.
The clashing of these two generations makes for much of the comedy as normal life has shifted aplenty in the last 100 years and it all lands on the shoulders of Seth Rogen. His works have often been hit-or-miss for me as his brand of humor does not always land with me as it does for others. By taking on these two roles he does his best work as an actor in the way he differentiates between them outside of the beard but also in the mannerisms and accents they have. Rogen takes what the screenplay provides and helps in the creation of two distinct characters with more similarities than they would prefer to let on.
One of the major plot points comes from Herschel trying to start a pickle empire and the creation and growth of this business pokes plenty of fun at modern business practices along with consumer trends. When he first begins he has a cart where he takes thrown out cucumbers and salt along with some rainwater to make the pickles he will sell. A variety of health code violations straight away but his rustic style gets labeled as some new niche market all of the hipsters just need to get in on. The exchanges work so well because Herschel literally has no idea what they say with those slang terms, but his boom in popularity comes from his hard work, which the 100+-year-old man wants to instill into his great-grandson. The rest of the plot becomes a game of Ben trying to ruin Herschel’s success but just like a weed, with each one taken down plenty more sprout up. Herschel just continues to garner more success and praise without even trying.
With all of its stellar comedic moments, the emotional fortitude of this film nails the different ways individuals from the same family can experience things differently. Herschel gave it all for his family and the successful succession became paramount to all of his decisions. Ben, on the other hand, contends with the struggle of not living up to the expectations of his own parents and thus sees the importance of family differently. Seeing these two connect means so much for each of their development but also allows for the audience members to ponder what it would be like to spend time with a great grandparent and how the different worldviews would clash. Through it all there would be plenty of love to be shared unless there are some evil shenanigans afoot.
Equally funny as it proves to be emotionally moving, An American Pickle takes an absurd premise and opens up the conversation piece of generational struggles within a family. It allows Seth Rogen to put on a showcase as an actor going against himself. Certainly, his greatest work in the art form, which provided a newfound appreciation for this man’s talents.