Part of the reasons comedy shows like Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the fact that these shows allow their characters to follow their selfish impulses without ever demanding that the characters find redemption. There’s just something funny about watching bad people do bad things only to face the consequences without the benefit of learning a lesson. I really wish The Pickle Recipe, the comedy from director Michael Manasseri, features characters following through on their solipsistic urges to mostly good effect until the film demands that each and every character complete a redemption arc, proving once and for all that they’re not as bad as their comedic actions suggests. The Pickle Recipe is a mixture of sweet and sour that never fully finds the right balance between the two.
Joey (Jon Dore) is one of Detroit’s premiere party emcees, orchestrating parties for wedding and bar mitzvahs to great success. When his latest party goes wrong and destroys all of his equipment before the party he’s planned for his daughter’s bat mitzvah, Joey is stuck in a corner in desperate need of money for new equipment. His Uncle Morty (David Paymer) has a proposition for his nephew: obtain his grandmother Rose’s (Lynn Cohen) legendary pickle recipe so they can sell it and Morty will give Joey $20,000. Joey takes a low level position at his grandmother’s deli in the hopes of obtaining her recipe, and eventually calls in his good friend Ted (Eric Edelstein) to help carry out various ruses to complete his mission. Eventually everyone learns that there’s so much more to life than money and pickles.
The farcical aspects of The Pickle Recipe are when the movie works best. One standout scene involves Eric Edelstein pretending to be rabbi as a means to be a trustworthy person to protect the secret recipe. It’s a sequence that doesn’t always feature crackling dialogue, but it builds the absurd tension between the characters through the situation and culminates with a ridiculous punchline. It’s moments like these that make me wish that screenwriters Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson used these scenes for a television comedy, as these are scenes that might as well be culled from a spec script for Always Sunny.
For every comedic situation that works the film injects a rote aspect of its characters redemption that dilutes the potency of The Pickle Recipe. Of course, Joey encounters a romantic interest in Hana (Miriam Lee), a co-worker at the deli who only exists in the movie so that Manasseri and company can check off romantic interest from their generic story checklist. The same is true with the characters of Joey’s ex-wife and her new husband (Ashley Noel and Brandon Matthew Layne). They’re broad archetypes that have been used in countless other ineffective comedies, never adding a spark to anything that happens. Of course, everything in the film gets wrapped up with a happy ending that redeems each and every character for all of their bad behavior, a disastrous decision that dulls the edges of the film’s most effect aspects.
The Pickle Recipe disappoints because it wants to have it both ways – acerbic and sweet in equal doses. It’d be much easier to digest if the film chose a side and decided to stick with it, or if the redemption arc for every character wasn’t so painfully rote. But there are aspects to this modestly budgeted comedy that show promise, especially for screenwriters Cohn and Wolfson who show a knack for creating some awkward comedic situations. The tonal shifts that Michael Manasseri attempts to pull off with his film are difficult, and the obvious nature of these shifts diminish the film’s strengths. It’s hard to be so sour and sweet at the same time, and The Pickle Recipe doesn’t have the ingredients to make it consistently work.