Film critics are in a pickle: Is Seth Rogen’s “An American Pickle” funny?
Rogen stars as Herschel Greenbaum, an Eastern European pickle-factory worker who emerges from a vat of brine after being preserved for a century. Rogen also plays Greenbaum’s last surviving relative in modern-day Brooklyn, great-grandson Ben.
Despite getting a double dose of Rogen in dual roles, USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt says the comedy is “not a big dill.”
Many film critics say the first original feature film released by HBO Max “leaves a sour taste” with its muddled plot and lack of focus. (“An American Pickle” has a Metacritic rating of 60 out of 100 and is listed as 68% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Monday.)
“‘American Pickle’ is generally all over the place, aiming to be an abstract comedy about family and religion but losing its way trying to also poke fun at modern culture,” writes Truitt, adding, “there’s some scattered laughs but it’s not particularly funny.”
Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz says, “although “Rogen is good in both roles, he’s let down by the script.”
“‘An American Pickle’ is the kind of movie that never quite decides what it wants to be. Pick a lane, as they say. Otherwise, you’re all over the place,” Goodykoontz writes.
Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman says the comedy is a “textbook case” of why fish-out-of-water films are “very last century,” adding that the film is “too contrived to be convincing and too formulaic to be funny.”
“The essence of the fish-out-of-water comedy is that it’s never been a realistic genre — it’s pure Hollywood fantasy,” Gleiberman writes. “Yet ‘An American Pickle,’ in its ethnically satirical and scattered way, lacks the integrity of its own ridiculousness. It’s pungent but flavorless: an unkosher dill.”
CNET Espanol’s Patricia Puentes, on the other hand, says she would have preferred if the film stuck to the fish-out-of-water trope entirely.
“If this movie were to just be a parody of the absurdity of modern life from the perspective of a character from the past, it would have been better,” she wrote. “The problems for ‘An American Pickle’ begin when it stops being just a satire of everything hipster, to try to want to say something else.”
However, the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney thinks the film’s “more sweet than sour” because Rogen’s redeemable acting “steers ‘An American Pickle’ through its narrative rough patches.”
“Rogen is so adept at breathing depth into two distinct roles, dissimilar in their physicality and facial expressions as well as their use of language, and yet clearly cut from the same cloth in ways that time or cultural background can’t negate,” Rooney writes.
IGN Movies’ Kristy Puchko says the film “gets its bite” from Rogen’s Hershel, which she calls “new terrain” for the comedian who has starred in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad.”
“What’s fascinating about ‘An American Pickle’ is how Rogen v. Rogen plays the actor’s current casting niche against his potential future,” Puchko writes. “With this role, Rogen is offered a chance to shake off the stoner/screw-up persona and dig into a totally different character.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips agrees that “while ‘An American Pickle’ is a different sort of comic fable than Rogen’s best-known work, there’s enough of an edge to make it stick.”
“This one’s more than one kind of comedy, too,” Phillips adds. “It’s a sweet yet nicely vinegary immigration fable; a deadpan fantasy; and a tale of two Brooklyns, one (1920) a repository of rat-infested factories and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, the other (2020) the gentrified land of their progressive, pea milk-drinking great-grandchildren.”
“An American Pickle,” based on Simon Rich’s 2013 short story “Sell Out” and
directed by Brandon Trost, premieres on the HBO Max streaming service Thursday.
Contributing: Brian Truitt
‘An American Pickle’ trailer:Seth Rogen stars as bearded time traveler and his great-grandson in comedy