Tossing toilet humor aside for something a little more nuanced, Seth Rogan pays tribute to the immigrants that helped build America with mostly successful results. Like most fish out of water movies, “American Pickle” is interested in the absurdity of filmmaking’s ability to defy reality, expecting the audience to go along with the narrative no matter how implausible it may be. Hershell Greenbaum (Seth Rogan) is the comedic immigrant version of Captain America. After falling into a large container of pickles where he’s brined for 100 years, Hershell wakes up in 2020 USA, just without the whole pandemic thing. When released from the hospital, Hershell rooms with his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogan) As you may expect, Hershell and Ben butt heads a lot.
The generational gap between the two provides a simple, humorous endeavor of ideologies in work ethic and personal beliefs. Both men have validity in their personas while maintaining flaws in some of their other traits. Living in the 21st Century, Ben is comfortable working from home, consistently questioning if he’s doing the right thing opposing to just acting on appropriate impulses. Awakening in a culturally appropriated society, Hershell’s opinions are fundamentally outdated. Both of these men’s failings come with their consequences.
When writing a narrative script, it’s good to establish 3 things about your characters—1 – strengths, 2 – character flaws, 3 – goals. All three of these characteristic play in tune with the film’s theme “your family’s traits carries on for generations.” At least that’s what I gather was the movie’s theme. Hershell and Ben are both extremely driven entrepreneurs. Both have incredibly vindictive sides when displeased, and the two want to become successful so they can honor their family’s legacy. Each point is made clear without being painfully redundant.
Much like how capitalism transforms everyone into a competitive monster, Ben takes things to the extent that’s inconsistent with his character. Initially, when we meet Ben, he’s the affable everyday man that we see Seth Rogan as. When Hershell inadvertently damages Ben’s reputation, Ben goes from enacting vengeance to becoming somewhat of a villain. Not once, not twice, but thrice, does Ben attempt to decimate Hershell’s character far after things could have been patched up by the two. At a particular moment in the film, Hershell attempts to break bread with Ben, but Ben still has hatred in his heart, failing to see the benefit of making peace with his great grandfather. Although this could be argued as part of Ben’s character flaw, the flaw is taken to the extent that I thought was monotonous. I saw the initial benefit in Ben’s actions, yet there was none later in the film turning him from a good but understandably upset man, into a petulant individual.
Even with the film’s intentional use of mocking a movie’s suspension of disbelief, the narrative abandons its style by implementing believable scenarios in an otherwise fantastical story. How does Hershell get thawed out of a pickle container where he’s somehow cryogenically frozen in, and nobody asks questions? Wouldn’t this be headline shattering news? No, the world doesn’t care about that story, but everyone is incredibly invested in a street vendor selling pickles for some obligatory reason. If there was ever an opportunity to have an excuse as to why Hershell or Ben’s businesses would have taken off, maybe it’s because the world found a 100-year-old man who’s seemingly immortal and the answer is to be brined in a pickle container. Take advantage of the high concept that you have here! Sadly these avenues aren’t explored in favor of a straightforward plot.
The feature is rushed, many times intentionally, which can be lovely in certain instances yet frustrating in others. With so many opportunities tossed aside, the movie must keep its story afloat through Seth Rogan’s performance, which I rather enjoyed. The Hebrew accent he attaches is exaggerated but appropriately so. Ben is just Seth Rogan being himself, which luckily is a personality I don’t mind watching. The character we primarily latch onto is Hershell, whose old soul nature makes me think of my family who immigrated from Greece. With their consistent philosophical diatribes, I saw a little bit of Hershell in them. Maybe the audience will think of their families who helped build the land that they live in now when they see Hershell much as I did. Unlike “The Fast and Furious,” the theme of family isn’t a cheap tagline thrown around with the word “bro” next to it. Family actually means something in this movie that helps carry it past its trite mechanics.