‘The Pickle Recipe’ just feels plain
Directed by: Michael Manasseri
Written by: Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson
Starring: Jon Dore, Lynn Cohen and David Paymer
“The Pickle Recipe” – Do you have a legendary family recipe? Perhaps, it is your grandma’s secret spaghetti sauce or your uncle’s deadly spicy hamburger relish. It seems like everyone has one such creation sitting on an extended branch of their family tree.
In the new movie “The Pickle Recipe”, Grandma Rose (Lynn Cohen) has coveted her secret recipe for a very long time, over 60 years, and it is for…well, you guessed it. Since 1955, loyal customers have flocked to her restaurant, Irv’s Deli in Detroit, for breakfast, lunch and a taste of her amazing pickles. Even though Rose’s late husband, Irv, passed away, life for the famous 80-something pickle maker is going swell. For Joey (Jon Dore), her 30-something grandson, life has tossed a roadblock in front of him and slashed his tires for good measure.
With his DJ business literally going up in flames, he is financially desperate to play at his daughter’s bat mitzvah. In his childlike mind, the only solution to his financial pickle is to steal Rose’s recipe and sell it to his Uncle Morty (David Paymer) to commit the highest form of family blasphemy for a quick buck.
This is the half-cooked premise of “The Pickle Recipe”, and this indie comedy unfortunately feels like a Disney Channel movie rather than a theatrical release.
As Joey places his worst foot forward to perpetrate this family thievery, the film does admittedly provide some amusing moments, but they mainly circle around Joey’s slacker friend named Ted (Eric Edelstein) and Rose. Rose orders Joey to slow down from 32 mph to the 30 mph speed limit, constantly complains about her estranged son, Morty, demands that the deli workers clock in at 5 a.m. sharp, and will raise an unholy fuss if anyone steps into her kitchen while she makes pickles. Rose definitely channels a bit of Anne Ramsey’s intentionally incorrigible role as Mamma from 1987’s “Throw Mamma from the Train”, but she is also a competent businesswoman, reasonable when reminiscing about her beloved Irv and carries a soft streak too.
The film smartly presents Rose’s soft side in a brief – but key - hospital scene, to sympathize with her, but one also realizes that her patience is thinner than Taylor Swift on a hunger strike. Outside of Rose’s amusing antics and Ted’s clumsy attempt at playing a rabbi, almost everyone else strikes out or just feels passable. Joey’s ex-wife (Ashley Noel), her new husband (Brandon Matthew Layne) and Uncle Morty are not very believable characters, and the crew at Irv’s sit like garnish on a deli plate with not much to do.
With director Michael Manasseri and screenwriters Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson serving a predictable story arc - of a desperate guy making careless, impulsive decisions with a distant, but probable, possibility of redemption – the film needs to rely on funny, memorable moments to keep moviegoers engaged. Joey and Morty’s scheme and its related twists, however, are not particularly noteworthy. Instead, the movie feels reminiscent of old sitcoms, like an uninspired blend of an average “Alice” (1976 – 1985) episode and the least funny bits of “Three’s Company” (1976 – 1984) during the Priscilla Barnes years.
I will say that “The Pickle Recipe” will certainly make you hungry for pickles. Walking out of the theatre, I absolutely was. Also, unlike movies like “Gran Torino” (2008), “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012) and “Robocop” (1987), Manasseri showcases Detroit in the nicest possible light. The film could make a summer trip to The Motor City seem like an appealing possibility, but the overall movie experience – unlike Rose’s recipe - just feels plain.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.