Have you ever wondered what your ancestors would think of the person you’ve become? That’s the basic premise of “An American Pickle,” based on a short story about an immigrant who survived a pickling accident 100 years ago and suddenly wakes up in modern day New York. It’s an offbeat, sentimental story that explores the importance of keeping a connection to our ancestors, especially at a time when many view their family history as insignificant.
Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) is a struggling ditch digger who immigrates to America in 1919 with big dreams of building a better life for his family. Herschel gets a job at a pickle factory as their resident rat killer and one day while at work, he falls into a vat of pickles and is locked away for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly (he hasn’t aged a day) until Herschel eventually emerges in present day Brooklyn as a confused fish-out-of-water. The man immediately begins to search for any family that may be left and discovers the very last Greenbaum is his great grandson Ben (also played by Rogen), a nerdy app developer who isn’t the success either of them hoped he would be.
There’s an underlying sweetness to the story as the two men struggle to understand each other. Herschel wants to live his American Dream and, as a true entrepreneur, starts his own pickle business with a makeshift sidewalk cart, recycled jars, rain water, and cucumbers that have been thrown in the trash behind a supermarket. As Ben continues to struggle with his creativity and failing to sell his newly-developed app, the two men start a family war, with Ben going so low as to try to sabotage his grandpa’s business endeavors.
It’s an unusual script that’s also delightfully unpredictable, but the meandering story ends up hurting the film. This movie is all over the place. It starts strong but flails around, touching on a range of topics from faith to ethics to grief to political correctness. There’s some humor buried within the forced sentimentality, but this isn’t a laugh riot that many of the leading man’s fans will likely be expecting. There isn’t much heavy lifting required in terms of performance, so Rogen carries the film just fine. He’s charming and genial, times two.
“An American Pickle” is a sweet movie that isn’t overly sappy, but it is guaranteed to make tender-hearted viewers go “awwwww.”