Widely publicised as a launch title for HBO Max, the Seth Rogen starring and Brandon Trost directed An American Pickle is a film about finding middle ground, making compromises for those you love, or even those you barely know but want to. Telling the story of Jewish immigrant Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) who comes to New York in 1919 only to be accidentally preserved in pickle brine in an abandoned factory for 100 years. When he wakes up his only living relative Ben (also Rogen) takes him in but they both have differing ideas of how to succeed in modern day America. While everything about Trost’s film, based on a short story by Simon Rich is perfectly entertaining, a passable distraction of a feature it never quite knows what it is. A discussion of how far we have come as a country in 100 years, a surreal comedy or a honest family drama.
It melds all three of these into a finishing product that isn’t fleshed out enough for drama, neve quite funny enough and plays off Herschel’s lack of modern day etiquette for cheap thrills. While Rogen does some of his best work here, making both Ben and Herschel distinctly different regardless of clumsy accents, Rich’s script does little to flesh out either of these two people beyond what makes them differences. Only interested in what tears them apart, the understanding Rich attempts to coerce out of his bare bones script never arrives. Coming in with an original premise and plenty of room to maneuver with 100 years of history to play with, Trost and Rich seem intent on playing for the audience instead of their characters. An American Pickle, thanks to Rogen feels like a drama and if it had pushed its pickle cart more in that direction it might have felt more relevant and important than it actually ended up being.