Two Ro­gens both funny, sweet

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - DATEBOOK - By Mick LaSalle

In “An Amer­i­can Pickle,” a Pol­ish im­mi­grant falls into a vat of pickle brine and wakes up, alive and pre­served, 100 years later. Every­one he ever knew is long dead, the Brook­lyn he lived in has been ut­terly trans­formed, and the only con­tact he has is his great­grand­son — who looks just like him, just with­out the beard.

Seth Ro­gen plays both roles and brings a lot to them. As a co­me­dian, he knows where the jokes are, and his tim­ing and light touch are in­dis­pens­able. But he’s also an ap­peal­ing, sen­si­tive ac­tor, and this be­comes im­por­tant here, too. As Her­schel, the im­mi­grant, he sug

“An Amer­i­can Pickle”: Com­edy. Star­ring Seth Ro­gen and Sarah Snook. Di­rected by Bran­don Trost. (PG-13. 90 min­utes.) Avail­able to stream on HBO Max start­ing Thurs­day, Aug. 6.

gests a lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of life, but one nonethe­less firmly grounded in fam­ily and tra­di­tion. Mean­while, Ben, the de­scen­dant, knows a lot more but is sure of noth­ing.

Both char­ac­ters have grief in com­mon — Her­schel for his wife and his world, and Ben for his par­ents — but Ro­gen tun­nels in­side and makes grief look dif­fer­ent on each.

Once “An Amer­i­can Pickle” es­tab­lishes the sit­u­a­tion, the movie be­comes some­thing of a scat­ter­shot satire of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, with Her­schel be­com­ing a celebrity and then los­ing his lus­ter when he starts of­fend­ing every­one with his sex­ist, anti­gay, an­tiChris­tian ideas. Though it’s a lit­tle far­fetched that many would take of­fense at the an­ti­quated ideas of a gen­uinely an­ti­quated man, this is satire and that might be the point.

“An Amer­i­can Pickle” is less ef­fec­tive at de­liv­er­ing on the logic of the premise. For ex­am­ple, any­one trans­ported into the fu­ture would want a crash course in his­tory, par­tic­u­larly the his­tory rel­e­vant to one’s own life. Is it re­ally pos­si­ble that a Pol­ish­Jewish im­mi­grant would never once hear about the Holo­caust? In “An Amer­i­can Pickle,” not only does no one ever tell Her­schel, but at one point, Her­schel and Ben

visit the old neigh­bor­hood in Poland and find it rel­a­tively un­changed.

Of course, that’s a weird crit­i­cism of a com­edy — why didn’t you men­tion the Holo­caust?

Ob­vi­ously, that would be a com­edy killer. But “An Amer­i­can Pickle” is just se­ri­ous enough to make us take the sit­u­a­tion se­ri­ously.

The movie is on surer ground when it con­trasts the vi­sion of life in old Poland ver­sus mod­ern Amer­ica. When Her­schel meets his fu­ture wife (Sarah Snook), they bond over ev­ery­thing they have in com­mon — “her par­ents were mur­dered by Cos­sacks, and my par­ents were mur­dered by Cos­sacks.” They have big dreams in com­mon, too. She wants to be rich, “like I­can­af­ford­my­own­grave­stone rich.”

That none of this seems snarky, but sweetly hu­man, is largely thanks to Ro­gen, who never makes Her­schel ridicu­lous, but as­pi­ra­tional, as if he has a vi­sion he’s work­ing to­ward. He is, in a sense, what we pic­ture when we imag­ine our an­ces­tors — that with­out quite know­ing it, or quite ever see­ing it, they were work­ing very hard on their no­blest task, to bring us into be­ing.

Hop­per Stone / HBO Max

Seth Ro­gen por­trays both Ben Green­baum (left) and great­grand­fa­ther Her­schel Green­baum in “An Amer­i­can Pickle.”

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