Deborah Ross

Heavy-handed satire and schmaltz: American Pickle reviewed

The film stars two Seth Rogens, when one is usually more than enough

He loves her because she has all her own teeth: Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum and Sarah Snook as Sarah. Hopper Stone / © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

American Pickle is a comedy based on a short story by Simon Rich, originally published in the New Yorker, and I was sold on the synopsis alone: ‘An eastern European Jew falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years before emerging in modern-day Brooklyn.’

It’ll be a fish-out-of-water film like Crocodile Dundee, I thought. But more Jewish. And it felt like I’d been waiting all my life for a film like Crocodile Dundee, but more Jewish. In fact, where have the more Jewish versions of Crocodile Dundee been until now?

You think: an entire factory left un-redeveloped for 100 years? It’s prime real estate, isn’t it?

But. While there are a few decent jokes the conceit can’t, alas, sustain the running time and eventually it all falls away into heavy-handed satire and then workaday schmaltz. That is schmaltz of the sentimental kind rather than the schmaltz that is rendered chicken fat which my own grandmother used to serve (on bread, like dripping) and which you would never call workaday. Not if you valued your life.

With a screenplay by Rich and directed by Brandon Trost, and with a theatrical release in the UK, if you dare, the film stars Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, who, at the outset, is a ditch-digger living in Slupsk in 1919 and courting Sarah (played by Sarah Snook: Shiv from Succession!). He loves her very much because ‘she has all her own teeth, top and bottom’ and also because, ‘We have so much in common. Her parents murdered by Cossacks. My parents murdered by Cossacks.’ They marry but then the Cossacks (‘those Jew-hungry maniacs’) burn down their village so they take the boat to New York where he finds a job in the Brooklyn pickle factory, falls into a vat on the day the factory closes for good, and that’s him done for a century, until some kids turn up to knock the lid off.

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