An American Pickle review: A time travel culture clash tale

Teng Yong Ping
·Lifestyle Editor
·2 min read
Seth Rogen stars as dual characters in HBO Max's An American Pickle. (Photo: HBO Max)
Seth Rogen stars as dual characters in HBO Max's An American Pickle. (Photo: HBO Max)

Length: 88 minutes
Director: Brandon Trost
Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen

3 out of 5 stars

SINGAPORE — An American Pickle is the second of two movies that Warner Bros. released on HBO Max this month. The first one was Locked Down (read our review of that here).

Because HBO Max is still currently only available in the United States, An American Pickle and Locked Down were released respectively in Asia on HBO and HBO Go, the company’s streaming platform in the region.

Seth Rogen stars in dual leading roles in the pseudo-time travel comedy An American Pickle. He plays Herschel Greenbaum, a Jewish guy from 1920 who wakes up in 2020 having not aged a day, and meets his great-grandson, Ben Greenbaum, also played by Rogen.

The film, an adaptation of the 2013 New Yorker comic novella series Sell Out by Simon Rich, was directed by Brandon Trost and adapted by Simon Rich.

A poor migrant labourer who works at a pickle factory in Brooklyn, Herschel falls into a vat of pickles and is miraculously preserved for a hundred years. In a fairy tale sort of style, the film doesn’t spend much time explaining about the science of body preservation, as well as how nobody had noticed there was a guy inside the pickle vat for a century.

Herschel’s only surviving relative is Ben, a mild-mannered app developer. Despite being putatively separated by 100 years, the two men are the same age. Their disparate worldviews and values quickly set them at odds with each other, and they turn from reunited relatives to bitter enemies.

Herschel is angry at Ben because Ben won’t join him in exacting revenge against the Cossacks, a genocidal Slavic people from Herschel’s Eastern European home country. In the modern day, Herschel equates a billboard advertisement for Russian vanilla vodka to a symbol of his Jewish ancestors’ mortal enemies, to be destroyed at all costs. Ben won’t help him in this crazy enterprise, and the two fall out.

At times it almost seems like Herschel, who eventually builds a pickle empire and becomes a celebrity businessman, is a stand-in for ex-US president Donald Trump. He tweets regressive and offensive opinions, and yet attracts ardent fans who admire him for his straight-talking style.

It is inexplicable to this reviewer as to why an auditorium full of seemingly educated New Yorkers would applaud Herschel’s pronouncement that women are fit only to serve things to men with their “little hands”.

The storyline and culture clash between Herschel and Ben revolve around the differences in their relationships with their Jewish heritage. But non-Jewish viewers probably won’t be able to relate to the family dispute between the Greenbaums.

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