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American Pickle is a strange story. Herschel Greenbaum falls into a vat of pickle brine in 1919 and wakes up in 2019. There, he connects with his great-grandson, Ben. Both characters are played by Seth Rogan.
I suspect that the message I pulled from this movie isn’t what I was expected to get. The message I suspect we’re supposed to get is that people’s antiquated are harming American society, but that ignores the setting in which the story plays out. What I’m witnessing is that everyone is so focused on what everyone else has, they forget what they have. Both Hershel and Ben share this trait, but being out of time, Hershel is amazed at the things Ben, a relative loser, has. Hershel would be ecstatic to have the life of a renter with a struggling business, being focused more on his personal and family honor than on “things.” The idea of a machine that creates seltzer water mesmerizes Hershel, which shows us how silly it is to lose sight of the amazing things we now take for granted.
At this point, I think it’s best to say SPOILER ALERT. I’ll place the next paragraph as quoted, italicized text so it’s easier to ignore.
Ben is a complete villain. As Hershel’s work ethic pushes him to success, Ben’s jealously has him leveraging cancel culture against Hershel. He even tries to get him deported. I suspect that, as with all art, people will read into it what they need in order to justify their worldview, which gives it a guaranteed fanbase. That’s a bit heavy for something I think is supposed to be a comedy, but not necessarily a deal breaker. Ben’s behavior really didn’t make me laugh, and that’s the deal breaker. When Ben attempts to reconcile, Hershel’s old-time notions of honor turn him into the villain, and aided by a typical Hollywood mischaracterization of the legal system, does Ben dirty.
Of course, everyone comes together by the end, but to me it’s too little, too late (and honestly a little cheap). The movie is just a depressing tale of how selfish we all can be, and I can’t help but feel I’m being lectured over things I didn’t do. Moreover, it just drags.
As always, YMMV.