The Weekend Australian - Review

Shaggy dog story fails to ful­fil early prom­ise


- Entertainment · Movies · Shaggy · Seth Rogen · Fiddler on the Roof · New York City · Back to the Future

Lim­ited na­tional re­lease


A ve­hi­cle for ac­tor Seth Ro­gen, who plays two roles, An Amer­i­can Pickle com­mences with a ter­rific nine-minute pro­logue set in the fic­tional Eastern Euro­pean coun­try of Schlupsk in 1919. Filmed in the old square screen ra­tio, the se­quence in­tro­duces Her­schel Green­baum (Ro­gen), a bearded ditch-dig­ger who looks as though he’s au­di­tion­ing for the lead in Fid­dler on the Roof. Her­schel is, to put it mildly, ac­ci­dent prone; his wooden shov­els keep break­ing, and the wheel falls off his cart. But his life changes when he meets Sarah (Sarah Snook) and falls in­stantly in love with her (part of the at­trac­tion, he ex­plains, is that she has all her teeth – top and bot­tom). He gives her a gift of smoked fish (she de­vours the head first) and she agrees to marry him, but on the day of their wed­ding Rus­sian Cos­sacks at­tack the shtetl and they are forced to flee, wind­ing up in New York where Sarah be­comes preg­nant and Her­schel finds work killing the rats that have taken res­i­dence in a pickle fac­tory. As luck will have it, Her­schel falls into a vat of pick­les on the very day the fac­tory is con­demned by the au­thor­i­ties.

One hun­dred years later, the ru­ins of the fac­tory still stand and the vat is un­cov­ered by a cou­ple of chil­dren. Her­schel emerges from the brine, hale and hearty but un­pre­pared for life in the 21st cen­tury.

It turns out that his only liv­ing rel­a­tive is his great grand­son, Ben (also Ro­gen), a stu­dious cynic who is work­ing on the de­vel­op­ment of an eth­i­cally moral app of some sort. The rest of the film deals with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the man from the past and his de­scen­dant, but this fish-out-of-wa­ter story is never as amus­ing as you’d like it to be, in­stead be­com­ing tire­somely win­some. Her­schel be­gins to pickle cu­cum­bers the old way, us­ing veg­eta­bles found in garbage bags and rain­wa­ter, and for a while he finds suc­cess and be­comes a celebrity, but his re­ac­tionary re­marks about AfricanAme­r­i­cans, gays and Chris­tians get him into plenty of trou­ble.

The vast bulk of the film con­sti­tutes a duo­logue be­tween two Ro­gens, which is skil­fully han­dled but a bit on the dull side, de­spite the ac­tor’s skill in dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween the two. Few other char­ac­ters emerge from the back­ground, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Eliot Glazer and Kalen Allen as a gay cou­ple who be­come cham­pi­ons of Her­schel’s pick­les.

Films that fea­ture char­ac­ters who move back and forth in time, such as the Back to the Fu­ture se­ries, have had smarter, clev­erer screen­plays than An Amer­i­can Pickle; too often in this film, Ro­gen is floun­der­ing in an at­tempt to in­ject hu­mour and bite into an in­creas­ingly lack­lus­tre shaggy dog story.

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