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An American Pickle

Where’s the line between “heartwarming” and “sappy?” Hard to say. One person’s “tender, sweet, sentimental” is another’s person’s “sickeningly mushy and syrupy.”

An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen hits the right heartwarming notes without going over the line. It’s the story of an East European Jew who immigrates to America, spends a century in a sort of suspended animation and comes back to life in our new and strange modern time.

The movie is funny but not laugh-a-minute funny. The movie is sweet but not quite Hallmark sweet.

A couple of decades into the 1900’s, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) falls into a vat of pickles, just as the Brooklyn pickle factory he works for is being condemned. The vat is sealed and sits undisturbed until a hundred years later when it is opened and there is Herschel, perfectly preserved in the salty brine.

In short order he is introduced to his great grandson Ben (also Seth Rogen), Herschel’s only surviving descendant. They bond but soon find fault with one another. Herschel’s Old World ways get them both arrested for assault and the criminal record results in Ben’s being turned downed for money to market the app he’s spent years developing.

Herschel, who initially stays with Ben, moves out and begins to brine cucumbers into pickles. He sells them from a sidewalk cart and becomes a social media sensation. Ben then schemes to sabotage his great grandfather’s success. Their relationship suffers a number of ups and downs until things are resolved.

Herschel has a full beard and wears vintage clothing. Ben is not quite clean-shaven—he has a bit of facial fuzz—and wears modern casual attire. There is a case of confused identity that is key to the storyline.

Rogen does a great job of playing opposite himself. For most scenes, each actor’s lines are shot separately and spliced together. But some have the two men onscreen at the same time. Actors who’ve done this in the past have spoken of the difficulty of getting the timing and the responses right when playing against a phantom whose parts will be included later. Rogan makes those scenes work just fine.

An American Pickle is a pleasant amusement. The likable Rogen, now just a couple of years shy of 40, continues to expand the scope of characters he plays well beyond the drugged-out goofball types he was earlier known for playing. The film is currently streaming exclusively on HBOMax. I would not be surprised to see it available on HBO on cable within a few weeks.

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