Why Did I Watch It? Broadly silly new films are welcome in the age of lockdown.
A Russian Jew, Herschel Greenbaum, emigrates to America with his sweetheart in the early twentieth century. He finds a job at a pickle factory, and a very simple version of the American dream; the couple have each other, a young son, and a pair of side-by-side funeral plots to take care of them in eternity. Life is hard, but good. Then Herschel falls into a vat of pickle brine, right as the factory is condemned.
This somehow preserves him, and he awakens a hundred years later to find a very different Brooklyn. His only surviving relative is Ben, his great-great-great grandson, a contemporary hipster who wants to develop an ethical shopping app. While these two start off amiably, they inadvertently spoil each others plans, and become enemies; its that generational divide, magnified five fold, and transmogrified through an enjoyably silly time travel plot.
Perhaps my brain has been softened by lockdown, but I can’t share the mostly negative comments I have read for this surprisingly sweet comedy. Writer Simon Rich adapted his own short story from the New Yorker, published serial style in four parts, and Seth Rogan stars as the time travelling pickle man, and his own grandson. In the former role he is excellent; a coiled performance of sly old fashioned charm, backed by an ever present threat to ‘do violence’ to anyone who crosses him. His objective is engagingly nice; he wants to repair the funeral plot where his wife is buried, which has become a garbage strewn ruin.
Needing to raise funds, he returns to the only trade he knows: pickling. And his simple, old school method turns him into an internet sensation, as Brooklyn’s foremost ‘artisanal pickle man’. This in itself is a pretty funny joke, implying that there are MANY artisanal pickle men in Brooklyn, which of course there would be, and Herschel is simply the best in a crowded field.
And if the film has a point, it can be found here: making fun of the hyperactive nature of modern popular culture, where trend setters are always looking to champion the next obscure thing, and people’s fortunes rise and fall at the whim of a single post. The film picks up momentum as it charts Herschel’s roller coaster ride as a social media celebrity; everyone loves his pickles, then they turn on him for not following health and safety standards, then he is championed by the right wing as an anti government free speech advocate, then he is cancelled again for his old fashioned view on gender roles. The rapidity of these ups and downs is amusing, and only a tiny fraction removed from real life.
The latter part of the movie returns to Herschel and Ben. They have both double crossed one another during earlier shenanigans, and Herschel has engineered for them to swap places; Ben being mistaken for the older man, and deported back to Russia. Now they patch things up, as the film strains for a happy ending it has not really earned. This is where it did fall down a bit for me; the final act is abrupt, unexpectedly pat, and leaves a lot of potential material unexplored.
Otherwise, this was a fun 80 minute romp. A perfect isolation watch, if you have the lockdown blues.