Pickles are Hashem's gift, and that is a hill we will die on. It's also the premise of Seth Rogen's latest film An American Pickle, which sees a 1920s Jewish immigrant, Herschel, preserved for 100 years in brine when he accidentally falls into a pickle vat.
When he awakes he is taken in by his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen) whose parents died in a car accident five years earlier. What we wanted from the film (and got in parts) was a heartwarming and funny tale seeded by the notion of Jewish ancestry and lineage, a collective history to which all Jews can relate, that also transcends it.
For most of the middle, An American Pickle leans heavily into the slapstick comedy angle, as if afraid that addressing things like grief and loss and trauma will somehow make it schmaltzy. The humour is for the most part genuinely funny, and even doubly funny if you share in the Jewish references.
But An American Pickle gets too hung up on trying to explain the unexplainable — and no, we don't mean how pickle brine can preserve human life for 100 years (that is handled hilariously). Instead, the film spends most of its time trying to figure out how we, 21st-century folks, would react to a person whose opinions about women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks and more are downright abhorrent.
The result is a pseudo-mocking of cancel culture while simultaneously exalting the fact that we have come far in 100 years (also taking a swipe at the criminal justice system). The movie spends a lot of time examining these themes without really coming up with an answer or even an opinion.
In reality, there are many people who still hold the same horrific opinions as Herschel today, but An American Pickle seems decidedly set against this line of commentary, or even posing the question to the viewer. It also doesn't even touch the fact that antisemitism is still A Thing.
Not all Jewish films have to address antisemitism, of course, but for a movie whose entire second act is so entwined with the ideas of hate speech and cancel culture, to ignore contemporary antisemitism altogether was a glaring omission (though maybe only to your Jewish writer here).
This middle section meanders away from what was promised: a tale of family, grief, and pickles. The saving grace is that watching Seth Rogen play off Seth Rogen is consistently delightful.
The first and last thirds of the film are by far the best. These are the moments where slapstick humour is abandoned in favour of genuine sentiment laced through with awkwardness that makes it relatable and real and, most importantly, funny.
An American Pickle is out in UK cinemas on August 7
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