The Weekend Australian - Review
Shaggy dog story fails to fulfil early promise
AN AMERICAN PICKLE (PG)
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.