Adapted by Simon Rich from his four-part serialized New Yorker story "Sell Out," directed by cinematographer Brandon Trost, and anchored by Seth Rogen's performance in two roles, the movie follows a time-traveling Jewish immigrant as he meets his assimilated American great-great-grandson in present-day Brooklyn. Ben, a pampered 21st century Internet denizen who could be Rogen's self-caricature, confronts his great-great-grandfather Herschel Greenbaum, a resourceful, man with a hot temper and Golem fists: "Fiddler on the Roof"'s Tevye with anger management issues and without the songs.
In 1919, Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) falls into a vat of pickles and winds up preserved by the brine. A century later, he emerges to find the world completely changed. Luckily, researchers can locate his great-grandson Ben (also Rogen), a mobile app developer, who takes Herschel under his wing as he learns to navigate the 21st century. The two Greenbaums start to clash as Herschel takes issue with Ben’s disinterest in religion and unwillingness to process his parents’ death in a car crash. Ben, in turn, finds Herschel’s outdated views and sudden success in the independent pickling business a thorn in his side as he struggles to sell the app he’s been working on for five years.
The film is at its best when it’s focusing on family drama. Ben is forced to reckon with his family history, and the grief he’s been bottling up. The worries he obsesses over — what color to make his app’s logo, for instance — are comparatively petty, and Herschel helps put them into perspective by comparing Ben’s circumstances to Herschel’s previous life as a ditch-digger and rat-smasher. Meanwhile, he tries to reconcile Ben’s seeming tepidity with his long-ago wish that all future generations of his family would be strong and prosper.