HBO Max is still a bit of a mystery, even if it's set to launch later this month, but one of the streaming services most exciting exclusives is shaping up to be a bizarre new Seth Rogen movie titled An American Pickle.
Premiering August 6 on HBO Max, An American Pickle stars Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, an early 20th-century Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who gets a job at a New York pickle factor and falls into a vat of pickles. Preserved in brine for 100 years, he emerges in our present and reconnects with his only living descendant Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen).
The movie is directed by Brandon Trost (best known as the cinematographer on This Is the End, The Disaster Artist, and Can You Ever Forgive Me) and also stars Sarah Snook (Succession), Maya Erskine (PEN15), and Jorma Taccone (The Lonely Island).
An American Pickle is based on a short story by Simon Rich (the comedic writer behind Man Seeking Woman and Miracle Works). Sell Out was published in The New Yorker in a four-part series (read it here, here, here, and here) and offers the same premise with some notable changes. For one thing, the timeline has been shifted up slightly from 2013 when the story was published to 2020, which means An American Pickle may need to update some of the many ways it lampooned Brooklyn's hipster culture.
The character of Ben Greenbaum has also been changed. In the short story, he's named Simon Rich and seems to be a direct parody of the writer (the fictional Simon is a whiny-but-successful writer who makes money punching up bad Hollywood comedies). According to HBO Max, Ben "is a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand."
“A computer is a magical box that provides endless pleasure for free.” — Sell Out, Simon Rich
Still, the basic premise is mostly the same, and it feels like promising material for Rogen, who should be equally at home playing a hard-working 20th-century European immigrant and a nebbish computer programmer in the year 2020.
There's no trailer yet, but here's a sense of Heschel's character from Simon Rich's Sell Out:
When I come on boat I have only shirt and pants. The food is not kosher and I soon begin to starve. In middle of ocean, I trade pants for tin of herring. Is very cold without the pants. But I survive.
And here's another passage from Part 1 of Sell Out that gives you a sense of Simon's character (and Herschel's take on modern life in general):
It takes him long time, but eventually Simon is able to explain. A computer is a magical box that provides endless pleasure for free. Simon is used to constant access to this box—a never-ending flow of pleasures. When the box stops working—or even just briefly slows down—he becomes so enraged that he curses our God, the one who gave us life and brought us forth from Egypt.
Again you could read the entire story for free online right now, or wait for the Seth Rogen movie, or do both! Either way, An American Pickle just gave us one more reason to be excited for HBO Max.
An American Pickle premieres August 6 on HBO Max.