In my eyes, Seth Rogen has matured like a fine wine. Well, if that wine was laced with Canada’s finest weed… I’ve grown up with the actor-writer-producer-director trying to be make me laugh on the big screen. In my teenage years, his work wouldn’t even conjure a smirk but more of a look of derision. Superbad aside, his earlier comedic work like Zach and Mari Make a Porno, Pineapple Express and Observe and Report just did very little fo me.
Yet in recent years I’ve become a lot more tolerable to The Rogen. He has impressed me with more serious fare like with his portrayal of Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs, whilst Long Shot is a genuinely funny – and surprisingly touching – edgy rom-com with the fabulous Charlize Theron. Even the more standard penis-weed-gag-filled-outings like Bad Neighbours haven’t made me cringe as much as they used to.
His latest film – An American Pickle – directed by long-time Rogen collaborator Brandon Tost, is another jolt in the direction of a more mature form of comedy. Yes there’s silliness to it, but there’s an attempt at heart and something deeper than weed jokes. In the film, Rogen finds himself playing two characters (who they shot completely separately): an immigrant Jew who accidentally preserves himself in pickle brine for 100 years and his great-great-grandson living in contemporary Brooklyn. What I like about the film is it effectively pokes fun at modern day norms, from social media, healthy eating to USA’s political system, using this quirky set-up without it ever feeling forced. I ‘lol’d’ several times behind my The Shining face mask as Rogen’s out-of-touch 100+ something tries to get to grips with modern life.
Yet the film goes for something bigger: it wants you to think about loss and grief. How would you react to waking up 100 years later and knowing your wife and kid are long dead!? It’s a massive, heartbreaking question and one I think the film itself only patchily answers. There’s attempts at emotion in graveyards and looking at picture books of long buried family members, but quickly the attention would shift and a gag would be fired or a reference to modern culture would be chucked out there and we were back in the realms of attempted humour again.
An American Pickle does enough for me to make it watchable and Rogen continues his rehabilitation with another interesting piece of work, I just wish its heart – which was in the right place – had beaten a little more effectively.