Updated: Aug 11, 2020
I have a special interest in Seth Rogen’s new comedy An American Pickle.
Besides being a fan of Seth Rogen’s work, the movie was shot on location here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
As with the production of It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) or The Dark Knight Rises (2011), it’s fun to see the film crews and equipment on location right in your own backyard and to hear the behind-the-scenes stories from friends who worked on set.
An American Pickle is no exception.
Let’s get the premise out of the way right off the bat.
No spoilers here.
The trailers spell out that the movie is about a poor, unfortunate pickle factory worker in Brooklyn who accidentally falls into a vat of pickle brine and is miraculously preserved for an entire century.
That’s right, he is awakened 100 years later, in an unrecognizable world with only one surviving descendant, a great-great grandson who looks remarkably like him.
The joke here is that both parts are played by Seth Rogen.
I know, I know, this shtick has been done before, but not by Seth Rogen.
Maybe the most extreme example of this kind of duplication gag is the old Michael Keaton movie Multiplicity (1996) in which he plays no less than three cloned variations of himself.
Michael Keaton, by the way, is from Pittsburgh. So there’s another noteworthy local connection to the world of movie comedy.
But, back to An American Pickle.
What’s funny here isn’t just the movie comedy gag of an actor playing scenes with himself.
I’ve always been a fan of that technique, silly as it is.
In fact, the movie Making Mr. Right (1987) inspired me to write, produce and direct a local TV commercial many years ago in which the reigning king of morning drive time radio was featured in a promotional spot in which he played two parts--himself and a gypsy fortune teller complete with a classic crystal ball.
The effects were pretty simple.
We hired a look-alike actor for the over-the-shoulder shots and did careful camera lockdowns in which the radio host could actually appear in the same split-screen frame, facing himself from opposite sides of the screen (the radio celebrity on the left and the drag-queen gypsy fortune teller on the right).
It’s idiotically simple—you just marry the two halves of the screen together in post-production-- but it works remarkably well.
As long as no one bumps the camera between takes. Which we were extremely careful not to do.
In An American Pickle, we have some of the same over-the-shoulder camera tricks mixed in with some slick digital technology that takes the sense of reality to another level.
Thank God for the state of special effects.
For this minor application and all the mind-blowing sequences that are the main ingredient of every superhero movie released over the last three decades.
It’s clever. It works.
What’s even more fun is the story twist involving the relationship between the two men which begins with the kind of empathy and love you might expect when a long lost relative is revived following a prolonged, briny bath in pickle juice.
But then things take an unexpected turn that makes the movie worth watching.
It might not be the comedy of the year or even the comedy of the summer.
But it is amusing, even a little poignant at times, and definitely worth seeing if you’re a Seth Rogen fan.
If you like Seth and his brand of comedy, you’ll like An American Pickle.
It’s comedy on a budget, but comedy worth some laughs an chuckles.
It’s also a lovely little tale about an immigrant with old country values and an old country work ethic intent on bestowing those values to a young man desperately (and unknowingly) in need of guidance and wisdom.
If you’re a Pittsburgher, you’ll also have fun identifying all the recognizable locations.
Here in Pittsburgh, we have a special attachment to pickles and all things pickled.
We were the home of H.J. Heinz and The Heinz 57 Company and of course the famous Heinz 57 pickles, celebrated annually in recent years with a popular pickle fest.
If Mount Washington across the river from downtown Pittsburgh ever becomes a local version of Mount Rushmore, I’d like to see Seth Rogen’s face carved on it.
What the heck? Why not? Maybe right next to a giant pickle, with the number 57 stamped on it.
An American Pickle is streaming now on HBO Max.