Amy Nicholson’s award-winning short “Pickle” has no business being as funny as it is. The award-winning 15-minute short is an energetic and amusing overview of what sounds like an entirely traumatizing experience, as it chronicles 25 years of Tom and Debbie Nicholson’s unbelievably bad luck with a bevy of rescue animals, from the eponymous Pickle the fish to an entire flock of ill-fated fowl.
The film’s official synopsis strikes the appropriate balance between off-kilter humor and almost overwhelming heartache: “Let us reflect on the brief existence of Pickle the fish. Although he could not swim, he was lovingly cared for by a couple that kept him propped up in a sponge. Along with an obese chicken, a cat with a heart condition, and a paraplegic possum, his life is a celebration of man’s eternal capacity to care for all creatures. He will be dearly missed.”
Tom and Debbie’s love for animals is obviously deep, but that hasn’t stopped them from losing just about every animal they’ve ever cared for, thanks to a variety of horrifying accidents. See? It shouldn’t be funny, but man, it really is.
Fortunately, however, Nicholson agrees.”I don’t know!,” Nicholson laughed when IndieWire recently got on the phone with the filmmaker to talk about why “Pickle” is so charming in the face of major tragedy.
She does have one idea, though. “Well, first of all, it’s my dad,” she said. “For twenty years, I’ve been going to his [and step-mom Debbie’s] house, and every time I would go home, I would tell people these stories: ‘Oh, there’s a chicken in the house, but she has a bad leg.’ And the names! There was always some saga.”
Nicholson is still kicking herself for not filming some of the more off-kilter animal inhabitants that roamed the Nicholson house, but that self-professed “idiot” move as a filmmaker propelled her to the current incarnation of “Pickle”: A talking head doc, starring Tom and Debbie, livened up with some very sweet animations and snappy edits. It’s that format (and that flair) that really makes the short so amusing.
“I thought, maybe I could make a little compilation, because it’s funny when you glue them all together. We had rough cuts in the beginning that were 30, 40 minutes, and they weren’t funny. It’s only funny when you really compress it down and everyone dies of a heart attack and everyone has some limb off, that’s when it starts to get funny,” Nicholson said.
“Pickle” is Nicholson’s fourth film, and she’s previously helmed the short “Beauty School” and features “Muskrat Lovely” and the Oscar-qualifying “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride.” The canny combination of laughs and tears is something Nicholson loves exploring.
“I always try to walk the line in my work between something that is serious and something you can laugh at, but you’re laughing with, not at,” she explained. That’s exactly what “Pickle” does.
IndieWire can exclusively report that Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired the U.S. rights to the short and is planning to pair the film with Rosemary Myers’ “Girl Asleep” when it hits theaters later this year. The film is coming off a hearty festival run, including screenings at Aspen Film Shortsfest, Full Frame, Hot Docs, the Florida Film Festival, the Maryland Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest.
You can catch “Pickle” in a theater near you when Oscilloscope releases it, alongside their “Girl Asleep,” later this year.