Fresh from a busy 2019 in which he voiced Pumbaa in The Lion King and played a speechwriter to his childhood rush in Long Shot, Seth Rogen returns with a feature that's a little out of character for him. An American Pickle is a fish out of water tale which stars Rogen – twice. He plays Herschel Greenbaum, an immigrant from Schlupsk who accidentally fell into a vat of pickles, preserving him for over 100 years. Rogen also plays Ben Greenbaum, a computer programmer who's also Herschel's great-grandson. When the pair meet, Ben helps Herschel adjust to the present day, which yields interesting and funny results.

Directed by Brandon Trost and written by Simon Rich (Rogen also served as co-producer), Pickle is based on Rich's 2013 short story Sell Out. Rich and Trost use Pickle to provide the highs and lows of capitalism, witness to Herschel (who hasn't aged a day thanks to the brine) opting to create a pickle company. Also, since Herschel lived in the early 1900s, his way of thinking is a tad… expired. His musings on topics ranging from a woman's role in society to Christianity pave the way for some musings on today's cancel culture. Finally, with this being a family affair, Trost and Rich take time to focus on legacy and expectations. All that is thrown into a project with a quick runs 90-minute running time.

That is perfect because it doesn't leave much time for audiences to ponder on some of the less realistic and less practical scenes. Then again, when are comedies realistic or practical?

Seth Rogen is a big reason why Pickle works. His laid back, schleppy persona blends in effortlessly with Ben and is disposition; while Herschel, although more temperamental and confrontational, is well-handled by Rogen, too. He adjusts to playing both characters with relative ease and, despite some mean-spirited competition between the pair, provides a good dose of sweetness and sincerity.

There are many viewers who can't get into Rogen and his acting style. Often, he's played a stone - an aspect of his film career that too closely parallels his real-life persona (in that sense, he's not unlike Cheech & Chong, who rolled quite the film careers with their stoner comedies). Pickle isn't a weed-centric feature - neither of Rogen's characters smoke on screen (a milestone of sorts), so this may be the greatest test of his acting abilities. One could argue playing a love interest opposite Charlize Theron in Long Shot may be his greatest strain, but I digress. So, if you don't find two hits of a toned-down, smokeless Rogen remotely appealing then you may never find him entertaining.

Regardless, Pickle represents a shift in Rogen's career – his brand of comedy has become less abrasive and more palatable for general audiences. All his previous films (in which he played the main or co-main character) carried R ratings since they were full of drug use, profanity, sex, nudity and even some violence. Pickle is PG-13 – along with Long Shot (although still rated R) and The Lion King, this signals Rogen's attempt at growth and maturity.

Originally set for theatrical release by Sony Pictures, Pickle was sold to HBO Max and is thus the streaming service's first original film release.

Although not outstanding, An American Pickle is solid first-time effort from Brandon Trost, who made good use of its star while carrying with it humor and a Kosher dill pickle-like sweetness. With Rogen “expanding” of sorts, it'll be interesting to see if he continues to evolve in future projects.

3 stars out of 5


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