Family is at the heart of Seth’s most Jewish film
Jewish Telegraph, August 2020
An American Pickle
IT’S a bit ironic that just a week after Seth Rogen alienated a lot of his Jewish fanbase, he releases his most Jewish film to date.
But the Canadian has pointed out that his controversial comments on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast did not mean that he challenged Israel’s right to exist.
So now we have got that out of the way, we can enjoy this fish-out-of-water comedy.
The first 15 minutes has Rogen setting the scene with a narration as Yiddish-speaking ditch-digger Herschel Greenbaum in the eastern-European shtetl of Schlupsk.
After the happiest day of his life, his wedding to Sarah (Sarah Snook), is ruined by Cossacks murdering the entire village — apart from the wedded pair — they head to a new life in New York where he dreams of earning enough money to drink seltzer (fizzy) water.
Herschel lands a job in a pickle factory killing rats — receiving a nickel for every rodent dispatched — but falls into a vat of brine just seconds before the factory is closed down.
And there he remains for 100 years until he is discovered by some kids.
The best joke in the film is how the implausibility of the storyline is explained to sceptical journalists.
Herschel moves in with his great-grandson Ben, who has been developing an app for five years with no success.
The pair end up falling out and Herschel goes it alone as a seller of artisanal pickles in the hipster New York area of Williamsburg, where his old world clothes are seen as cool.
Jealous Ben does his best to sabotage his great-grandfather’s business . . . and it isn’t too hard to work out how the story will all be resolved.
An American Pickle won’t have you rolling on the floor with laughter — it’s a more gentle (not gentile) humour.
I watched it with a permanent smile on my face, while there were a few laugh out loud moments, especially one involving David Bowie.
There are also some moving moments involving religion, mainly about Herschel wanting to say Kaddish for his lost family, but Ben isn’t one for religion.
Herschel’s character is similar to Peter Sellers’ Chance the gardener (Chauncey Gardiner) in the film Being There in the way that things he says in confusion are taken as having a deep meaning.
There is also a hint of Navin Johnson from Steve Martin’s classic The Jerk — a poor simpleton makes his fortune which changes his life and then has it all taken away from him.
But strip everything away from the Brandon Trost-directed An American Pickle and you are left with one theme — family.
The whole message of the film is about how important family is, even if you do have arguments and fights.
And with antisemitism on the rise again, this film’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.
It shows people that Jews are normal people, with normal jobs and normal problems. It may exaggerate certain things, but there is a real warmth that comes through in the end.
It’s a short film, but it packs a punch — just like Herschel, who believes if you threaten to punch someone you should go through with it.
It can be distracting early on having Rogen playing both roles, but after a while you do stop looking for any discrepancies when the two characters are on screen together.
So accept Rogen’s explanation of his Maron comments and focus on his positive promotion of being Jewish.