PG-13, for some racial and sexual insensitivity. There's some violence, but it is pretty mild. People die, but that's simply because time passes. It's a pretty tonally appropriate film for a PG-13 audience, which makes it PG-13. The F-Bomb is written once, but it is misspelled. (Also, I mentally now use this term in my head since it was dropped in the movie. This is how I catch up on my slang.) It also gets overtly political, which isn't really a parent warning, so much as it is a tonal warning. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Brandon Trost
I had to take a day off. Why? Because I had another kid, that's why! It's not like I can accept congratulations through a blog. I mean, I suppose I can. But I think it is fair to take a day off while we're sleeping over in a hospital. Also, I need to learn to adapt. It's a fine line between healthy writing habits and obsession that misprioritizes things in my real life. But she's a beautiful girl named Violet and I'm pretty thrilled with her. She's sleeping right now and the kids are watching Doctor Who, so I have some time to catch up on yesterday's writing.
Most people going into An American Pickle are taken aback by its bizarre concept. I don't know if I'm that taken aback by the whole thing. After all, I'm the guy who goes nuts for Charlie Kaufman conceptual work, so starting with a goofy concept that actually leads to a fairly mundane plot is fine for me. But the thing that actually threw me for a loop was how safe the movie's message was, considering that I have to guess the personal politics of Seth Rogen. I'm really playing runaround with what I'm trying to say, because I'm floored that the movie comes down on the side of faith.
I get the vibe that Seth Rogen is not a man of faith. Again, I don't know this man in real life. We're not friends. I don't follow the gossip mags or really engage in the sordid affairs of the celebrity elite. The more I know about someone outside the world of the story, the harder it is to connect with that story. But part of me has built a narrative of Seth Rogen in my head. Perhaps its the constant stoner humor. Perhaps it is because he tends to associate with the ribald. While I have always understood that Rogen himself is Jewish culturally, I never really thought of him as a practicing member of the faith. All of this combined makes me assume that Rogen is more like Ben Greenbaum over Hershel Greenbaum. And while neither character really can be considered on the side of angels, Hershel's faith is one of the takeaways the film leaves the audience and Ben with. Ben, a man who thought he was a good man, found out how lost he was through an examination of faith.
(How the sausage is made: It is hard to take care of a family while trying to blog. I will 100% of the time abandon the blog to take care of things around here. Here's the beginning of Day Two of writing this, so if the tone is all over the place, I apologize.) Both Ben and Hershel, from their introductions, come across as both lovable and annoying. Maybe it is Seth Rogen commenting on the good guy archetype or simply self-loathing, but neither character holds all of the answers. However, Ben's issues seem to be more complex than Hershel, who often comes across as an element of plot sooner than complex character. It is funny because Hershel is the character who is instantly sympathetic. Having lost everything due to an absurd set of circumstances, Hershel establishes as heroic in nature. In 1919 (which I'm convinced was originally 1920, but had to avoid everyone wearing masks in 2020), Hershel is both ingrained in the culture and also progressive. He goes out of his way to be romantic. He genuinely loves his wife. He is a character that symbolizes the American immigrant due to his embrace of the American Dream. But we also know that he's representative of the old guard, to outdated ideals. But with Ben, we instantly read him as someone who is too alone and too lost in his own comfortable world. It's such an odd association because his choices from the beginning show that he is altruistic. He adopts Hershel and is extremely sensitive to the cultural disparities between them.
But yet, Ben's shift from moral crusader to huge butthead doesn't seem that shocking. Maybe An American Pickle borrows a bit liberally from the Frank Grimes episode of The Simpsons, but his shift is a bit telegraphed. Once Hershel's backwards cultural norms affect Ben's values, success with his dream project, his character instantly shifts to someone who is bitter and angry. Ben is a punk. It's odd how quickly our sympathies leave Ben, despite the fact that his wrath is justified. Hershel does go too far. And we can't really forget that Hershel is unfathomably boorish. Ben makes reasonable requests of him, but "Hershel Knows Best" is the attitude that the character adopts. The film allies the audience with Hershel, whose victories reflect Homer Simpson's continual kismet-driven success. The idea that Hershel becomes this Pickle Mogul is both wonderful and a hilarious commentary on farm-to-table culture.
It's so impressive that the movie made Hershel this lovable racist. Because Hershel does suck. We understand that there are so many motivating factors within Hershel's choices of bigotry that it almost comes across as quaint. But Hershel is --and this can't be ignored, especially with the theme of the film --unfathomably boorish. He is completely pigheaded and convinced of his own superiority. While Ben sets him up for failure, this failure only reflects Hershel's real fundamental problems in his character. The movie quickly becomes a commentary for cancel culture because Hershel isn't simply a freedom of speech patriot (mainly because few people actually are), but simply a guy who feels comfortable with his own superiority because he has been unchallenged for generations.
What we're kind of left with is both genius and slightly disappointing. It's this exploration of faith and cultural differences. It's a political allegory for cancel culture and how everyone is terrible. It focuses on what we value generationally and fight for in different periods in our lives. We love our ancestors and hate them at the same time. We value our own generation and find ourselves wildly insufferable. It's so impressive how much this movie has to say, but I left the movie thinking "That was fine." For such an ambitious movie lacks the scope and scale of a theatrical release. At the end of the day, this movie felt constrained by the fact that it was an HBO Max release. It feels like a film, but will probably be forgotten by 2021. There's something missing from it and maybe its a sense of scope. It's clever without being amazing. It's poignant without being risky. It's a lot of good, but not a lot of great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.