If you heard and dismissed the rumors that Seth Rogen was making a movie about Jewish pickling practices, you could be forgiven for chalking it up as another highlight in our year of fabrications and “fake news.” But because this is the kind of thing that actually happens in 2020, Seth Rogen really is making a pickle movie — and honestly, the newly-released trailer looks like the real deal.
Based on a four-part New Yorker humor piece by former SNL writer Simon Rich (a scenario that itself sounds like something from a movie, maybe this one), “An American Pickle” follows archetypically plucky immigrant Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) as he sets out from the old country with big dreams of getting rich in America — “like, buy my own gravestone rich,” as his wife Sarah, puts it. He takes a job at a pickle factory in the Forward’s original stomping grounds, the Lower East Side. But with union reforms decades away, he falls into a vat of brine where he’s preserved for 100 years (in case you’d forgotten, this is a Seth Rogen movie).
When Herschel wakes up in the 21st century, he’s adopted by his great-grandson Ben, a godless computer coder who looks just like his ancestor because he is also played by Seth Rogen. It’s Ben’s task to acclimate Herschel to his New York, a hellscape of coffee shops and featureless co-working spaces that seems eminently ridiculous to a hardscrabble herring-eater (as it should to all of us). But ironically, it’s the mockable modern fever for fermentation that helps Herschel find his footing.
Based on the trailer, “An American Pickle” looks to be more of a feel-good family tale than Rich’s story, which is wholly committed to lampooning the yuppie creative class (“They tell me they are ‘conceptual artists’ and are ‘reclaiming the abandoned pickle factory for a performance space,’ Herschel observes when two modern-day Brooklynites wake him from his century-long vat nap. “I realize something bad has happened in Brooklyn.”). In the movie, Herschel and Ben seem poised to forge a new family unit, whereas Rich’s original protagonist quickly supplants his churlish great-grandson in his under appreciated girlfriend’s affection.
But both are keepers for their Brooklyn slapstick and embrace of Jewish sensibilities that endure even after decades in brine: the normally-dour Herschel has a rare moment of triumph when Ben informs him that the man who cured polio was Jewish.
TLDR: If you told me in January that my hottest plans for August would involve admiring Seth Rogen’s beard(s) from the only couch I’ve touched for months, I would not have been happy. But I just watched this trailer three times, and I am here to report the summer is looking up.
“An American Pickle” will premiere on HBO Max on August 6. Watch the trailer here.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.