Seth Rogen Could Have Been Our New Woody Allen
No, you don't have to watch the Holocaust-free "An American Pickle."
Many moons ago, I commented on a Reddit post about how Seth Rogen should have played the protagonist in Midnight in Paris instead of Owen Wilson. I was reamed out over it but YOU KNOW WHAT? I STAND BY IT. It didn’t occur to me until now, though, that what I meant by that suggestion is that Seth Rogen and Woody Allen Venn diagram a bit. Seth Rogen is the 21st century Jewish neb who talks a lot and has lots of ideas but is kind of annoying and you wonder where he’s finding all these women who adore him and fall at his feet.
Both filmmakers also have a really fun grasp of the absurd, of inventing wacky spaces where everyone just pretends all is fine and pedestrian but actually everything is completely out of the realm of normalcy.
But where a Woody Allen film often has another layer going on, you’d be hard pressed to say the same of a Seth Rogen film. I guess I always know how the pieces of a Seth Rogen film fit together, while a Woody Allen (mostly) leaves me guessing, unsure of how events will pan out. Now, this could be a generational thing; an elitist thing; an intellectual thing. All of which are very Jewish things, so hey, not apologizing for it.
Take An American Pickle.
It’s 1919, and Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) leaves his Eastern European town with his wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) for the great American Dream. Once there, however, he falls into a vat of pickles, where he remains for the next century. When he emerges, alive and perfectly preserved, he has only one remaining relative, a great-grandson named Ben (also Seth Rogen). Ben’s parents have died in a car crash. While Herschel is grieving Sarah’s death, Ben never learned to properly grieve his parents. Shenanigans ensue, all framed by this intense grief they both feel for their individual losses.
If Woody Allen made An American Pickle, there would have been more layers. Where’s my proof? Go watch Sleeper.
Besides that, though, is another glaring omission.
If Woody Allen had made An American Pickle, it would have addressed the goddamn Holocaust.
For a movie about how a religious Jewish ancestor would react to meeting a secular descendant, An American Pickle is shockingly, offensively, Holocaust-free.
Starting with Herschel’s pickled survival, the story requires a lot of suspension of disbelief: he conveniently has no regressive opinions about race; there’s a bizarre, unresolved deportation subplot; the post-debate Q&A features actual questions from the audience and not just long-winded comments.
But entirely missing the Holocaust? That’s a step too far.
Do you know how hard it is to have a conversation about modern Jews without addressing the Holocaust?
Herschel emigrates from Eastern Europe in 1919, missing the rise of the Third Reich. Sarah dies in 1939, right before World War II. And since their children are all American, Ben has no connection either.
And it’s so on theme, too! One of the big conversations surrounding the effects of the Holocaust is whether or not a survivor kept their faith. Whether you come out of such an atrocity and believe it was all God’s work, or completely shun religion and refuse to ever acknowledge Him again. IS THAT TOO HEAVY FOR YOU, SETH ROGEN?
I do find it interesting, though, that even in a movie where the Holocaust has no effect, you still find Jews grieving. It’s very Jewish to grieve. Even our happiest moments are asterisked with a reminder of the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash.
What I’m trying to say is that with Woody Allen’s molestation accusations, we currently have an opening for Main Jewish Director Of Our Times and if Seth Rogen weren’t giving off serious self-hating Jew vibes – like, even more self-hating than Woody Allen – it could have been him.
But hey, maybe I’ve just set the bar too low. Maybe the whiffs of privilege and misogyny aren’t inherent to Jewish comedy. Maybe the next Big Jewish Director Of Our Lives is a woman. Can we get on that?