An American Pickle (Brandon Tros, 2020)
So, this must be a first in certification terms: 12A because of discrimination.
Although, when you think about it, what might be balance is anti-Semitic. The sexism, on the other hand, is perhaps invisible.
Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) has a horrible job digging ditches in a Polish village a century ago, when he meets and falls in love with Sarah (Sarah Snook) and they share dreams — to be rich and powerful and to taste seltzer water. After a Cossack raid on their shtetl, they emigrate to America and he gets a horrible job in a pickle factory. Unfortunately, he falls into a vat of vinegar and is perfectly preserved for a century.
We are in familiar Sleeper, Sleeper Awakes, Rip Van Gherkin territory — the lazy time travel story in which the schlemiel deals with the future, although in this case it’s our present. Herschel is hooked up with his only surviving relative, Ben (also Rogen and I’ll come back to that), a non-practising Jew and wannabe app designer, who lives in Brooklyn. When Herschel inadvertantly destroys Ben’s pitch, he has to strike out on his own and starts a pickle company, which almost inevitably is perceived as bijou artisan niche authenticity. There ensues a bit of a tit for tat battle, which ought to end up with Herschel as president were it not for Article 2 or the Fourteenth Amendment.
When Herschel arrives in the US, we are subjected to the anti-Semitism he faces, and it would take a tin ear to approve. When he is encouraged to express views about Christians later, it is even less comfortable and I’m not sure the film earns this moment. These are presumably the discriminatory views we are warned about and by this point we might not like either of the characters.
(The screenwriter and Rogen are Jewish, so this isn’t necessarily punching down. But the film takes a couple of sharp terms as it navigates and evades the darkness.)
The satire seems all rather tame compared to the explosion of old-fashioned views — Twitter, apps and hipster-led urban regeneration seem dated targets. I think I only laughed at a Kanye West joke.
By then, of course, we are missing Sarah — indeed, aside from an intern, Clara (Molly Evensen), the recurring characters are all male. There are a couple of officials and enforcers, but Brooklyn and the US seems a rather male world.
I confess I didn’t realise that Rogen plays both characters — their profiles are not exactly the same — and the special effects to achieve this are rather better than the stetl, the rats and a hundred years passing. That much deserves praise, but otherwise, not so much.