An American Pickle (3 stars)

An American Pickle

Seth Rogen stars alongside Seth Rogen in a satirical and surreal comedy

Waking up in the future, a la Sleeper and Demolition Man, becomes a way to explore familial legacy, religious guilt and the immigrant experience in the solo debut of director Brandon Trost. Seth Rogen snags a pair of suitably contrasting lead roles, one gruff and obnoxious, one alienated and needy, and balances them winningly in a film that takes shots at the ridiculousness of modern America and throws in heartfelt reflection and some truly silly shenanigans.

It begins promisingly, with a hilarious and beautifully shot prologue set in 1919 Schlupsk, a fictional Eastern European town that's misery central. Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish ditch digger and misfortune magnet who finds his soulmate (Sarah Snook) and moves to America, only to fall into a vat of pickle in a factory that's instantly condemned. 100 years later, Herschel re-emerges, perfectly preserved, in a scene where the science is deliberately skirted over. Although Sarah and the child she was carrying have long since passed, his great-grandson Ben (also played by Rogen) – a freelance mobile app developer – welcomes Herschel into his Brooklyn home, before the pair fall out in spectacular style.

The script from Simon Rich, based on his short story 'Sell Out', plays heavily to Rogen's strengths – incredulity, sarcasm, fury – and, indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing either part. It's lucky that he nails it as, Snook's virtual cameo aside, the film lacks a single substantial supporting role. You really have to dig Seth Rogen. Although the narrative is choppy, moving in fits and starts, there are plenty of funny lines, surreal scenarios, and lots to chew on thematically; Herschel becomes an internet sensation with his artisanal / unsanitary pickles, before his 1920s views get him into major bother.

The American dream has been much maligned and perhaps Trost and co don't have anything original to add to that, though their film skewers its subjects well. And, by engineering a meeting between ancestors with very different values, it says something important about how far we've come, but what may have been lost along the way.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 7 Aug.

An American Pickle

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • Directed by: Brandon Trost
  • Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone, Maya Erskine
  • UK release: 7 August 2020