Seth Rogen elaborated on the many challenges and complexities of playing dual roles in his latest film “An American Pickle” in an interview Monday. Among the benefits of shooting such a picture was the need to maintain a regimented production, providing him with a bit of structure that many of his films typically eschew.
The comedian stars as two characters opposite one another in the film, Herschel and Ben Greenbaum. Herschel is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who falls into a pickle vat and is preserved for 100 years before emerging in contemporary times. Ben is his great-grandson, an app designer from Brooklyn who struggles to teach his ancestor about modern society and customs.
“It was very complicated, but I was up for the challenge,” Rogen said. “I knew what I was getting into. I’d directed things where people play two characters before, so I understood how complicated and technical it could be.”
“I longed for it in some ways. Some of the movies we make are so loose that this idea of making something that was pretty regimented and had a pretty specific blueprint it had to follow was actually appealing to me.”
Fans of the funnyman will likely be disappointed to learn the limited nature of the film’s release. “An American Pickle” is the first original feature to premiere on HBO Max, the premium cable channel’s confounding new streaming service. It was originally planned as a traditional theatrical release from Sony. However, the comedy was acquired by HBO Max in April at a time when theaters were closed nationwide and the quarantine was in full effect. The film will now debut Aug. 6 on the streaming service.
Rogen and crew went about making the picture by shooting all the scenes featuring the bearded Herschel first. At times, stand-ins were utilized to give the actor someone to interact with. Rogen then shaved his beard and production returned to shoot the scenes featuring Ben.
“When I’m acting, I’m generally trying to serve the bigger picture,” Rogen explained. “That is how I approach it. I’m used to having more than one job on a movie, so it was not that weird, honestly. I very much felt like I was just serving the story as best I could as both characters.”
The film opens in 1919 with Herschel and his wife being driven out of the fictional country of Schlupsk by militant Cossacks. They emigrate to New York City where Herschel takes a job at a pickle factory. He accidentally falls into a pickle brine tank and is preserved for the next 100 years.
Once Herschel re-emerges, he unites with his only living relative, Ben. Herschel’s wildly outdated and offensive viewpoints cause myriad problems for his great-grandson and comedic high jinks ensue.
While the plot sounds funny enough and plays perfectly to Rogen’s strengths, early critical reaction has been quite bland. The review embargo lifted Monday allowing for a flood of reaction to rush in.
USA Today’s Brian Truitt had a rather negative review of “An American Pickle” saying it was “generally all over the place, aiming to be an abstract comedy about family and religion but losing its way trying to also poke fun at modern culture,” adding, “there’s some scattered laughs but it’s not particularly funny.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney called the film’s effects “first-rate,” concluding that the movie is “neither the most substantial nor the most sophisticated comedy, but its soulful sweetness outweighs its flaws.” Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, however, felt that “in its ethnically satirical and scattered way, [it] lacks the integrity of its own ridiculousness. It’s pungent but flavorless: an unkosher dill.”