Half-sour and bittersweet

New film ‘The Pickle Recipe’ features four generations of a Jewish family – and one big secret.

Lynn Cohen in a scene from ‘The Pickle Recipe (photo credit: THEPICKLERECIPE.COM)
Lynn Cohen in a scene from ‘The Pickle Recipe
It’s hard to pinpoint the Jewiest moment in The Pickle Recipe.
The movie opens at a wedding, as “Hava Nagila” pours out of the speakers and the beaming bride and groom are hoisted on chairs for their first dance.
Of course, as the film unfolds, there’s also a Friday night dinner complete with kiddush; casual references to Fiddler on the Roof; some gambling on an intense game of dreidel and a tallit-clad bat mitzva girl giving a speech in front of a synagogue ark.
Indeed, The Pickle Recipe, the brainchild of Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson, plays heavily on Jewish tropes for laughs. The comedy, starring Jon Dore, Lynn Cohen and David Paymer, follows the story of a desperate-for-cash dad setting out to rip off his own grandmother – just to make his almost-12-year-old daughter happy.
Joey (Dore) is a wedding DJ, who is all set to give his daughter an epic bat mitzva party when a freak accident ruins all his equipment. His uncle Morty (Paymer) convinces Joey that all he needs to do is steal the famed pickle recipe his grandmother Rose (Cohen) has been hiding for decades – and he’ll sell it for enough cash to buy Joey new equipment. What ensues is part madcap caper, part sappy family film, with heavy doses of Jewish-themed humor and hijinks.
The inspiration for the story, in fact, comes from real life – sort of.
“Sheldon and Gary were sitting around one night talking about ideas and Gary just happened to mention his Polish grandmother had the most incredible pickle recipe,” said Michael Manasseri, the film’s director. “He said to Sheldon, ‘You know, I would kill for that recipe, because unfortunately, she passed away and she never gave the recipe to anyone.”
According to Manasseri, the idea was dreamed up a little over five years ago, and came to fruition when it was filmed last year. It had its world premiere in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and went on to play at a handful of other movie festivals. Next month, he said, the film will premiere at select theaters across the country, with a heavy concentration in Florida – for good reason.
“The local Jewish community really came out in support of this film in a major way,” said Manasseri. “It’s a sweet, heartwarming family film. It would appeal to Jewish family audiences... but we’re hoping it has crossover appeal.”
He said they haven’t set any concrete plans for an Israeli premiere yet, but “I would say we’re definitely going to play in Israel” at some point in the future.
Manasseri noted that he is one of the few non-Jews involved in the higher-level production of the film, but felt a strong connection to its universal themes.
“It was always important to me for this disconnected family [in the film] to come together and do that through comedy and do that through food,” he said. “I’m Italian- Sicilian... every Sunday would be at my grandmother’s house, it would be her sauce and her meatballs and it was my connection to food and nurturing and nourishment.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a burrito or a meatball or a pickle... every culture has a recipe, has a food, has a connection to the generation before.”
The film certainly has a heavily Jewish focus, but it’s one based in the 21st century – where grandma Rose’s Detroit deli serves bacon alongside its pastrami sandwiches, and an interfaith relationship is celebrated by all. The plot is predictable, and often cliched, with some significant plot holes – but a heartwarming tone... except for a joke about a rabbi and a circumcision that I saw coming a mile away and could have done without. The cast is what really brings the movie to life, with solid performances from veterans and newbies alike. Cohen is best known for her role in Sex and the City, while Paymer is an Oscar nominee who has appeared in films including Mr. Saturday Night, Get Shorty and Ocean’s Thirteen, as well as TV shows Cheers, Line of Fire and The Good Wife.
Of course the heart of the film – and the plot – is the pickles – particularly when a series of implausible events end up with Rose forced to sample a hundred different pickles to figure out just the right recipe.
“Lynn Cohen in the tasting scene did have to take a bite of 70 or 100 pickles,” said Manasseri. “I have no idea if she has had a pickle since!” He said they had hundreds of jars of pickles on set throughout filming – but no one wanted to snack on the versions the actors made themselves on screen.
But for the director himself, the brined cucumbers have always had a special place in his heart – and even more so now.
“I grew up on the East Coast – surrounded by delis and diners and pickles... pretty much every other day at lunch I had a pickle,” he said. “I still love them – and now I know a lot more about them than I ever did!”