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Review: Undernourishing insight sipped from 'American Milkshake'

A white teen covets black culture in a movie that fancies it's saying something profound, only to shrug when it comes to clarifying what that is.

September 05, 2013|By Annlee Ellingson
  • Shareeka Epps and Tyler Ross in "American Milkshake."
Shareeka Epps and Tyler Ross in "American Milkshake." (Phase 4 Films )

In the wake of Miley Cyrus' scandalous performance on the Video Music Awards, "American Milkshake" from writer-director-producers David Andalman and Mariko Munro hits on a particularly topical trend: the (mis)appropriation of black culture. In this case, Jolie (Tyler Ross), a skinny white teenager in suburban D.C. circa 1995, wants more than anything to be a baller, and it's a "dream come true" when some of the big black boys bused in to his magnet school from the Maple Avenue Towers get hurt, in trouble or arrested — increasing his chances to make the team and then to get "some clock."

Meanwhile, he's secretly dating Henrietta (Shareeka Epps, given little more to do here than scold), an African American classmate whose adoptive hippie-dippie parents don't realize she's pregnant. It's another boy's baby, but that's OK with Jolie because he's into the fact that "she's kinda thugged out." Publicly, he's dating Christine (Georgia Ford), a hot cheerleader who will give him the time of day now that he's on the varsity squad.

"American Milkshake" fancies that it's saying something profound about Jolie clumsily coveting his teammates' thug lives. He's even the great-great-grandson of the blackface performer Al Jolson — how's that for allegory? But the script is short on details and insight, and when asked to comment on this condition — or the script's sketch of a culture on the cusp of the Internet revolution — the film, like its dirtbag protagonist, just shrugs.


"American Milkshake"

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language and a brief nude image.

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Playing: At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.


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