An American Pickle Review

An American Pickle

Simon Rich’s short story, “Sell Out,” was a spirited social commentary on modern-day New York City through the eyes of a Jewish man who woke up 100-years into the future. The immigrant POV style of writing leads to some very entertaining and insightful reading about the current state of New York City. Does the feature film adaptation of “Sell Out” provide the same kind of entertainment as the short story?

While the original short story accurately depicts modern-day New York through the eyes of a 127-year-old Jewish man, the film adaptation does something different with the storyline. An American Pickle still parodies modern-day New York, but now it tries to sell the theme that family is still the most important thing despite the fragmentation between the family. However, several missteps by fledgling feature-length filmmakers lead to a failure in illustrating these themes in An American Pickle.

An American Pickle follows Herschel Greenbaum, an immigrant worker who falls into a vat of pickle brine and becomes preserved for a hundred years. He wakes up in modern-day Brooklyn and begins to reclaim his life with the help of his great-grandson, Ben Greenbaum.

An American Pickle - Seth Rogen

For An American Pickle, Simon Rich deconstructs his own short story to retell the story based on this new theme about family. A lot of elements of the story are there, but he does omit some story elements while expanding on others. With the film adaptation, he pits the two family members against each other, which makes both characters look bad for the majority of the film. It’s a risky move since you run the risk of alienating audiences because neither characters are likable people. Then again, this is the same writer who made himself look like the villain in his own short story.

It would also explain why the film feels formulaic since each scenario doesn’t feel like it’s part of a bigger storyline. Instead, these scenarios seem like chapters in the short story. In other words, something with a beginning and an end. Also, they’re written in a “rinse and repeat” way, which, unfortunately, also leads to some predictable moments.

Unfortunately, director Brandon Trost doesn’t add any style to spice up the script. The storytelling aspect is very dry in its execution as Trost plays it safe for his first feature film outing as a solo director (he previously directed The FP alongside his brother, Jason). This safe approach affected the hilarity of the film too. The generic nature of the film has most of the jokes falling flat.

Pieces of Simon Rich’s short story commentary on modern-day New York does make its way into the film. It’s just unfortunate that the combination of themes doesn’t mesh well together. Trost isn’t able to find the balance between the two. As the film focuses on one, then the other becomes an afterthought.

An American Pickle - Seth Rogen

Trost also didn’t provide much in terms of creating a very captivating conflict between the two characters. It goes from 0-100 and gradually increases until the film’s resolution at the end. Although the film runs at a brisk hour and thirty minutes long, several scenes could’ve been edited out of the film and not affect it. Yet to hammer home the idea that the rift between Herschel and Ben were seemingly irreparable, the filmmakers left those scenes in there.

Unfortunately, for Seth Rogen, he doesn’t yet quite have a handle on the in-between of being likable and being a douche. It’s either one way or the other. When he’s a douche, he becomes unlikable because of his brash and brazen performance. When he turns on the charm, though, he has this uncanny ability to get audiences to feel for him. It’s just a shame that the latter appears close to the end of the film. Nevertheless, he had more fun playing Herschel than he does as Ben. 

Overall, the combination of fledgling filmmakers and unlikable characters are what lead to a failure in illustrating the dual themes in An American Pickle. Maybe with more experience, Rich and Trost would’ve given An American Pickle some life into this hilarious premise. Much like Herschel, though, you’re left thinking, “what could have been.”

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

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