Movie review / ‘An American Pickle’ (PG)

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Seth Rogen, left, as Ben and, right, as Herschel in “An American Pickle”.

“An American Pickle” (PG) *** and a half

I DID a short internet survey to see how reviewers (which I am) and critics (which I’m not) dealt with writer Simon Rich’s adaptation of his short story “Sell Out” for director Brandon Trost to convert into moving images. 

Most if not all those other commentators described it as a comedy. Well, any movie featuring Seth Rogen is bound to deliver laughter. But underlying the comedy arising from Rogen’s portrayal of a Jewish Russian immigrant to the US who falls into a vat of pickling liquid in 1919, there to remain until uncovered by a bunch of schoolboys in 2019, Herschel Greenbaum is alive, well and feisty after his century of submersion.

This is a type of futurist on-screen fantasy that doesn’t infuriate me – zany, intensely humane, imaginative enough to vest what follows with a tad of credibility. 

Playing Herschel, Seth Rogen hides behind a luxuriant black beard such as was a symbol of faith in Russian Jewish communities in 1919. Herschel and his beloved wife Sarah (Australian Sarah Snook) emigrated before the Marxist/Leninist takeover of Russia in 1917. Sarah was pregnant when Herschel fell into the pickle. 

In 2019, Herschel and Sarah’s great grandson Ben is their only surviving descendant, living alone in New York. With a beard more five-o’clock shadow than Herschel’s lush whiskers, Seth Rogen plays them both, including when they’re both in the same shot. 

What follows the reunion certainly has comic moments. But most of all, “An American Pickle” is a polemic for our time. It doesn’t tout for either party in the forthcoming election. But Herschel experiences the rise and fall of selected social themes influencing daily life in modern America. And that’s at best disconcerting, not funny ha-ha.

At all cinemas

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"An American Pickle" (PG) *** and a half
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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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