Seth Rogen’s double stunt – as an unsuccessful developer and a defrosted pickle factory worker – fails to rescue the inevitably shallow American Pickle (2020).
To be in a pickle is a common way of describing a fairly difficult situation. And it can’t be a coincidence that this the title of Brandon Trost’s film. Because not only does the two protagonists stumble upon quite insurmountable obstacles, but it’s also the director who can’t quite grapple this little mess of a film.
In American Pickle (2020), a Jewish man known as Herschel (Seth Rogen) learns the hard way the meaning of being in a pickle. After years of living a life full of hurdles – he works as a rat killer in a dirty factory – Herschel falls into a batch of gherkins. If you’re unaware of what the possible outcomes could be, they’re harsh – Herschel’s preserved for 100 years only to wake up in modern Brooklyn. Confused and feverishly longing for his wife, he meets his closest living kin – a freelance developer Ben (also played by Seth Rogen).
Seth Rogen had more to offer than American Pickle (2020) lets him
I can’t recall any recent double role that really went beyond being a gimmick – maybe except for Paul Rudd’s largely under-discussed Netflix series Living With Yourself (2019). A vast majority of actors tasked with this challenge fail to fruitfully explore two sides (or more – look at Noomi Rapace’s muddled multi-role in What Happened To Monday (2017)) of one coin. And it’s not only Tom Hardy’s major flop in Legend (2015) to serve as an example.
I’ll dare to say that ordering someone to the idea itself suffers from an inherent flaw which is the need to drastically differentiate the roles. Despite Seth Rogen’s best efforts – and I’ll admit that he’s the least of the problems found in American Pickle (2020) – it’s a misfire. But let’s firstly spare a few words on how Rogen handles the situation.
Admittedly Seth Rogen, known mostly for his unforgettable chuckle and stoner comedies, already pulled off a dramatic stunt in Steve Jobs (2015), so it’s no surprise the actor’s capable of bringing the dramatic side. As Herschel, the actor sells the confusion and disconnection from the new world, meanwhile Ben’s an amalgamation of all things you read about developers on Buzzfeed or other equally relevant page. Nonetheless, Rogen makes these two characters click, especially due to the heart-warming nature of Herschel.
Therefore occasion for a solid dramatic turn for Rogen couldn’t be better than in Brandon Trost’s movie, however the script of American Pickle (2020) insists on blocking Rogen’s potential. The plot based on a short story Rich Out by Simon Rich, appears half-boiled at all times, and its the rags-n-riches story basks in its largely bloated and insipid twists.
‘Let’s laugh at that boomer, because he doesn’t get the Internet’
Unfortunately, the clash of the generations isn’t anything particularly new, or funny for that matter. Back in 1993, a French comedy The Visitors (1993) starred Jean Reno as a medieval warrior who accidentally got thrown into the glorious 90s. And in the 90s, the idea was fresh. But in 2020, the range of gags stemming from a guy who doesn’t know what mobile apps is as limited as the film’s budget. But hey, boomers in the Internet are hilarious, aren’t they?
Moreover, American Pickle (2020) arrives at a rather offensive look at one Polish city called Słupsk. Quick backstory – the film locates Herschel’s past in Schlupsk, and despite never saying it out in the open, the plot does hint at the Polish roots of the protagonist. The cultural heritage of the modern portrayal of Poland rings hollow and is simply untrue.
I’ll admit that some parts of American Pickle (2020) – mostly the fabulous prologue that reminded me of Amelie (2001) – boded well for what Brandon Trost had up his sleeve. But the sweet taste lasted a few minutes before the the audience got double-Seth’ed and things went downhill.
American Pickle (2020)
Hate Grade: 6/10
Director: Brandon Trost
Writer: Simon Rich (based on a short story of)
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Music: Michael Giacchino & Nami Melumad
Watch American Pickle (2020) on HBO Max.