Being There (1979)
Here’s another, less-visually-obvious movie that viewers are recalling while watching An American Pickle. Hal Ashby’s Being There, based on the novel by Jerzy Kosiński, stars Peter Sellers as a simple-minded gardener who becomes a national sensation after his employer dies and he’s forced to leave the estate where he’s lived and worked for decades. Through some mistaken assumptions made about his identity, the gardener even winds up an advisor to the President of the United States and a promising political figure himself.
Chance the gardener, a.k.a. Chauncey Gardiner is not a time-traveler like Herschel in An American Pickle, but he might as well be. He comes from a place of isolation and old-fashioned sensibility — aside from his love of television, of course — so his perspective on the world isn’t that much different from a time-displaced person from the past. Both characters become public fascinations to the point that, as can be expected from the cult of personality, they’re eventually asked about running for office. That doesn’t seem so funny nowadays since it’s all-too-real, but in 1979, it made for a perfect satire.
This is the movie that Herschel and Ben are watching together in the mid-credits scene. Yentl, based on a play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, is a different sort of dual-role movie as it’s really about one character masquerading as another person, Shakespeare-style. Barbra Streisand plays an Ashkenazi Jewish woman in 1904 who poses as a boy — namely taking over the identity of her late brother — in order to attend a religious school.
One reason the scene is so funny is that Streisand has played Rogen’s mother before (see below), and now Rogen is playing a guy turned on by the “naughty” situation of the actress being dressed like a boy and removing her disguise and revealing herself to be a woman (“I defy anyone not to,” Rogen told USA Today about finding Streisand appealing in the film). I think the bit is also very funny because of all the times Herschel has mistaken relatively androgenously dressed or styled women for boys throughout the rest of An American Pickle. He would have been easily fooled by Yentl in addition to being attracted to her.
Double Impact (1991) and Adaptation (2002)
Here we have two more movies featuring an actor in dual roles as twins. The idea had come back in vogue during the 1990s as digital compositing made it much easier to pull off the idea. Why did I choose Double Impact from among all of those available to mention? Well, coincidentally this week, our own Kieran Fisher wrote about the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle and pointed out that it was a project meant to showcase the action star’s acting talents. Similar to how critics have been acknowledging and mostly praising Rogen’s work in An American Pickle, especially in the Herschel role.
As for Adaptation, reviews of An American Pickle mentioned the Spike Jonze-helmed comedy starring Nicolas Cage in two roles as a positive comparison as opposed to something like the double-Adam Sandler vehicle Jack & Jill. It’s also one of two movies that Rogen admits to thinking about while making An American Pickle. He tells Nerdist:
“‘Adaptation’ is one I would always think of. I did not go back and watch it—maybe I should have—but it’s one in my head where I was like, ‘Oh, I remember that being a good version of one actor being two characters.’ They didn’t make it too shticky. They tried to do it in a very offhanded way, which was our approach as well. And then on the other end of the spectrum, Eddie Murphy in ‘Coming to America.’ And what’s amazing about that is you wouldn’t even know it’s the same actor. It was obviously something that always left an impression on me. Although I can’t say I specifically drew inspiration from either of them, those were the two where I was like, ‘Oh, I like those, so maybe it could work.'”
Rogen also mentions Adaptation in an Entertainment Weekly interview, in which he’s additionally led to acknowledging the Bette Middler and Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin comedy Big Business as another relevant film favorite.
The Guilt Trip (2012)
If it weren’t for The Guilt Trip and Seth Rogen starring in a movie as Barbra Streisand’s son, the Yentl bit at the end of An American Pickle wouldn’t work so well. It does really feel like he’s talking about being attracted to his own mother, even though yeah it’s just movies and acting and nothing truly incestuously weird. But that’s not the only reason I have for recommending the comedy as a movie to watch next. I also really enjoyed the movie, but that’s not entirely what this is about either. Nor is the fact that both movies’ titles provide simple yet great double-meanings.
The Guilt Trip, like An American Pickle, has Rogen playing a guy who has been working on a business opportunity involving an environmentally-conscious product for a long time and is due to pitch the thing during the story (here it’s an eco-friendly cleaning product; in the new movie it’s an app to help consumers be more eco-friendly). It’s also a movie in which Rogen’s character is forced to bond with an elder relative — his mom as opposed to a great-grandparent — with ups and downs and generational clashes. Streisand makes it work most by not overdoing any Jewish mother stereotypes, and like An American Pickle, its heart saves what could have been a formulaic road comedy.
Half Sour (2015)
This week’s doc pick rounds up the bunch, and it’s another short selection. Half Sour is only fifteen minutes long (you’d think it’d be a half-hour) and is nothing too fancy visually. The subject matter is what makes it worth watching alongside An American Pickle. The doc profiles John Till, a skater who moved to New York City and started a pickle business with others from his subculture. They’re like a perfect combo of Herschel, the Big Apple newbie selling pickles, and Ben, the hipster who probably skated at one time.
Watch Half Sour courtesy of PBS here: