Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) is a simple man. He digs ditches by hand in his Eastern European village. When he sees Sarah (Sarah Snook) at the market it’s love at first sight, and he digs twice as hard so that he can buy her a fish to eat (immediately, in a gross-out gag). Sarah dreams of being so rich that she can afford her own headstone, and Herschel wants to try seltzer water. After a brief courtship spent sitting by a bog, they get married.
No sooner has the glass been smashed in their traditional wedding, when vodka-drunk Cossacks raid their village and kill everyone. So the Greenbaums immigrate to New York City. Herschel finds work as a rat smasher in a pickle factory, and Sarah expects a baby. Everything is going well for them until the rats gang up on Herschel and he falls into a pickle vat at the moment the factory is condemned.
Fast forward 100 years. Some kids chasing their drone accidentally knock the lid from the vat, and out pops a perfectly preserved Herschel. The world is a different place now, and his beloved Sarah is long dead. Fortunately, the hospital puts Herschel in touch with his great-grandson, Ben (also Rogen), who happens to live in the area and happens to be the same age Herschel was and still appears to be. Best of all? Ben has a seltzer water maker.
The fish-out-of-water (or in this case, pickle-out-of-brine) comedy has long been useful for shifting our perspective on every day. Herschel turns to prayer to help him deal with grief. Ben looks at cute animal pictures on his phone. Herschel will “do violence” to those who disrespect his family or expect him to pay taxes. Ben develops apps to help people know if the company that makes their kale chips is “ethical.” Soon, the two don’t just find each other at odds, but at all-out war.
Determined to prove he can survive on his own, Herschel amasses a fortune through artisanal pickles so that he can buy and chop down the “Cossack vanilla vodka billboard” that looms over Sarah’s neglected headstone. Without understanding what’s happening, Herschel becomes a folk hero and social media star.
But while Herschel is building the old American dream, Ben is working just as hard using new social media to manipulate Herschel and get him canceled. Once he says horrible things about minorities, women, and Jesus, public opinion turns against Herschel. Facing deportation, he turns to Ben for help and, realizing he went too far, Ben agrees. Soon their roles are literally reversed.
An American Pickle moves through different genres, starting as a kosher religious comedy, transitioning to spicy social commentary, and finally ending with something sweet. But sandwiched in between are messages about faith and family. While the salty language means this won’t be everyone’s bread and butter, discerning viewers will find much to relish. (HBOMax)