Canadian stand-up Jon Dore stars as Joey Miller, a divorced dad with an overly inflated ego, based entirely on his status as a hot shot on the wedding/bar mitzvah circuit, where he fancies himself as the life of the party. Joey’s good times come to an abrupt halt when a freak dance-floor accident destroys his expensive DJ gear, just a month away from his own daughter’s bat mitzvah, for which he was expected to provide the entertainment. Backed into a corner, our man is forced to cook up a cockamamie scheme, at the urging of his shady Uncle Morty (David Paymer), to go undercover at the family’s venerable downtown deli, Irv’s (played by Detroit institution Hygrade Deli) to steal his Grandmother Rose’s (Lynn Cohen) hallowed pickle recipe, and sell it to a competitor with deep pockets. Rose guards the contents of her dill brine with a rabid, Gollum-like intensity, barring everyone from the kitchen while she works, and even hosing down her beloved grandson when he shows up for his first shift. Various complications arise to pad out the run time, including a budding romance with chipper waitress Hannah (Miriam Lee) and shenanigans with a drug dealer and a struggling improve actor (Eric Edelstein) whose attempt to pose as a rabbi culminates in a cringeworthy circumcision gag that is also probably the biggest laugh in the whole piece.
Director Michael Manasseri cut his teeth as a kid sitcom actor (notably on the tube version of Weird Science) and that influence shows in pacing that is intermittently frantic and plodding, and a clunky presentation that telegraphs every chuckle and sniffle so broadly that you half expect an applause sign to light up in the theater. There is of course a bit of comfort to be found in this cinematic bowl of matzo ball soup, as polished veterans like Cohen and Paymer elevate the material, even when they are tasked with delivering shtick that was stale in the Borscht Belt days.
Family-friendly ethnic comedies are becoming as rare as the neighborhood delis that the movie so lovingly cherishes, which may not be all bad, but comes with a touch of bitter sweetness. The Pickle Recipe wallows a bit in treacle and stereotypes, not just of its neurotic Jewish leads, but in the multicultural supporting players (one of whom is called “Yung Ho,” hold your applause), though there is no malice intended. Truthfully, for all its flaws, this is a movie that just wants you invite you in and make you feel good, and you’d have to be a real sour schnook if you protest that offer too loudly.
The Pickle Recipe opens on Dec. 16 at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-8397; michtheater.org.