If you’re wondering what the science behind a man being preserved in pickle brine for 100 years is, you’re in luck! An unnamed reporter asks that very question in the first 15 minutes of the Seth Rogen vehicle “An American Pickle.” I won’t spoil the answer here. I can only say that, according to Herschel’s inner monologue, “The science was good, and everyone was satisfied.”
The main highlights of the film include Rogen’s passable Russian accent as Herschel and a few not-so-subtle digs at social media. Fans of YouTube’s “Kalen Reacts” will be pleased to see Kalen Allen make several appearances as Herschel’s “fairy godmother” of the technological age and pickle-odor aficionado.
Of course, given Herschel’s sudden appearance in a world a hundred years more advanced than the one he disappeared from, there are bound to be cultural unknowns into which he unwittingly falls.
Herschel is a 20th century Jewish immigrant whose life goal is to rise in station enough to try seltzer water, something very difficult in his own time period. Imagine his shock when he learns that technology has made seltzer water available on-demand within one’s own home!
Another instance of Herschel accidentally stepping into cultural quicksand involves social media. Twitter leads to a particularly brutal teaching moment for Herschel with regards to deplatforming, which was brutal for him but also the most entertaining scene of the film.
Although Rogen relies heavily on the oft-repeated Hollywood smoke-and-mirrors act that is one actor playing dual simultaneous roles (“The Parent Trap,” “Coming to America,” etc.), his usage of this technology has a somewhat refreshing spin. Rather than playing identical twins, Rogen fills the roles of a millennial software developer and his great-great grandfather.
Rogen’s trademark sarcastic humor is sprinkled throughout, though noticeably absent is his usual penchant for “stoner humor” (à la Pineapple Express). What I first thought was a big bag of weed sitting on Ben’s desk actually turns out to be a bag of dried kale chips.
Unfortunately, the film’s potential is somewhat wasted by Rogen’s unwillingness to be enduringly vulnerable as an actor. There are some moments of genuine emotion, but it doesn’t dive as deep as one would want to see from a film like this. I’m an easy sympathetic cryer during films, and I didn’t even shed one tear. Even “Armageddon” can pull a few out of me.
It’s also hard to identify a protagonist in this story. It seems as though both of Rogen’s characters, Herschel and Ben, could be either protagonist or antagonist depending on which scene the audience is currently watching. They both have their moments of sabotaging the other. Perhaps the antagonist is family dysfunction, or maybe it’s vodka.
In short, it’s a mediocre movie that could have been better. It is refreshing to see Rogen take on a role that is not dependent on ubiquitous marijuana usage. There are moments of real hilarity which make this movie more than just two hours of one’s life wasted, but you won’t necessarily miss anything remarkable if you don’t see it.
Hevyn Heckes is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @H_Squared90