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The Pickle Whisperer
Sheldon Cohn had just one actress in mind to play the lead in his first film. He wanted Lynn Cohen, an octogenarian with significant roles on television, Broadway and in a number of films, including The Hunger Games and Manhattan Murder Mystery, and who many remember as Miranda’s housekeeper Magda on Sex and the City.
The question was would this actress — who has been acting since she was 15 and has worked with directors like Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg — agree to star in a film written and produced by two guys from Detroit who had impressive careers making commercials but almost no experience with anything more than 30 seconds?
“She really was my only choice,” said Cohn, a resident of West Bloomfield and former advertising executive at Doner advertising agency.
After talking to Cohn and his co-writer/co-producer Gary Wolfson many times before agreeing to the role, Cohen accepted the part, stating that just because a filmmaker isn’t known or experienced, does not mean he can’t do a good job.
Cohen said she was drawn to The Pickle Recipe because the lead character is a strong older woman who “knows life should be lived with courage, strength and kindness.
“I’m not interested in playing the part of an old woman dying in a nursing home,” said Cohen, who joking revealed her age as 36 during a phone interview from her home in New York.
The character Cohen is referring to is Rose Glickman, a Jewish immigrant living in Detroit with an unbelievably good recipe for pickles that she serves at her Detroit deli. The Pickle Recipe tells the story of how Rose’s grandson Joey (Jon Dore, How I Met Your Mother) is desperate for money. His Uncle Morty, Rose’s son (Oscar nominee David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night) convinces him to steal the pickle recipe. Joey, a DJ who needs to replace his recently destroyed equipment so he can DJ his daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah, reluctantly agrees.
Despite the ill-intentions of Rose’s son and grandson, the film is actually a heartwarming family comedy with some hilarious scenes — thanks to not only a good script but also a lot of improvisation — including one where Joey’s non-Jewish friend pretends to be a rabbi in an attempt to get Rose to trust him with her recipe.
The script — minus this rabbi scene — is loosely based on Wolfson’s grandmother, a Russian immigrant who went to her grave with a pickle recipe that Wolfson wishes she had shared before her death.
Cohen, who said she hates watching herself on screen, was pleased with the finished product.
“You’re only as good as the people around you,” she said. “And I had the good fortune to work with good people and good material.” *
A LOVE LETTER TO DETROIT
Despite its status as a low-budget film, the production team of The Pickle Recipe was able to snag Oscar nominee David Paymer (City Slickers, Mr. Saturday Night and Get Shorty among others) and Lynn Cohen (The Hunger Games, Munich and Sex and the City). But perhaps the biggest star in the film — at least for locals — is the Detroit area.
Shot on location in and around Metro Detroit last summer (in just 22 days), The Pickle Recipe prominently features recognizable locations such as Woodward Ave., Ford Field and the Ambassador Bridge. Hygrade Deli, owned by Stuart Litt, on Michigan Ave. in Detroit, was transformed into “Irv’s Deli.”
Most notable in the Jewish community are the scenes filmed at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield and Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham.
Patients of orthodontists Steven M. Lash and Rebecca L. Rubin and pediatric dentist Jeffrey Goldenberg in West Bloomfield might recognize their Orchard Lake Road office building (despite the addition of the fictitious name Woodward Memory Center across the top of the building).
“It’s sort of a love letter to Detroit,” says Sheldon Cohn, who wrote and produced the film with Gary Wolfson; West Bloomfield-based Eddie Rubin was co-executive producer. “You can tell we’re from here and we love it here. Detroit is so diverse and so photogenic.”
Cohn said they chose to film a bat mitzvah scene at Shir Shalom because of the aesthetics of the temple. “Everyone was blown away by the building, especially the beautiful skylights and gorgeous lobby,” he said. “I don’t think we had a second choice because this location was just so unique.”
Clover Hill, the location of one of the first scenes in the film, was selected more as a matter of convenience than anything else. It was the first Jewish cemetery that could accommodate them at an agreeable time. Ironically, when director Michael Manasseri found the spot he wanted to shoot from, Cohn told him to look down — the spot was the location of Cohn’s mother’s grave.
Beyond the recognizable images of the area and the use of Michigan products (like Faygo), many of the filmmaker, actors and crew are local. Even Fox 2 news reporter Sherry Margolis has a cameo in The Pickle Recipe — spoiler alert: She plays a television reporter doing a story on the deli that serves Detroit’s famous pickles.
For those who sit through the closing credits, there are dozens of recognizable names receiving special thanks, including Marla and Mark Canvasser, Avern and Lois Cohn, Eleanor and Larry Jackier, Shari Ferber Kaufman and Alon Kaufman, Susie and Norm Pappas and Lisa and Hannan Lis.
Topor’s Pickles, Geoff Kretchmer and Star Trax and Annabel Cohen Cooks Detroit also get shout outs during the closing credits. *
The Pickle Recipe opens on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Twp. and Emagine Novi. Advance screenings are scheduled on Nov. 3 at both theaters. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at themapletheater.com or emagine-entertainment.com.
By Jennifer Lovy, Special to the Jewish News