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PARK CITY – Vanilla white doofuses looking to boost their street cred by adopting the style, attitudes and vernacular of black brothers have been lampooned in sketch comedy more or less since the birth of rap and hip hop. And while it coasts by on scruffy charm to some degree, a stretched sketch – inspired by an earlier short film – is pretty much what David Andalman and Mariko Munro’s intermittently amusing Milkshake remains.
Set in 1995 in the DC suburbs, the comedy revolves around lily-white high school senior Jolie (Tyler Ross), a wannabe Tupac named for his great-great-grandfather Al Jolson. Jolie’s interpretation of his Jewish ancestor’s minstrel act as an expression of solidarity for a fellow minority says plenty about the boy’s obliviously patronizing racial envy.
Jolie comes from a comfortable home and goes to a magnet school where he dreams of making the varsity basketball team so he can hang with the black dudes from the projects. He sighs longingly when his classmates get excused to go to the Million Man March.
While supposedly tutoring her in algebra, Jolie is having regular sex with Henrietta (Shareeka Epps), a black girl adopted by nerdy white liberal parents. She’s also pregnant with someone else’s baby – “thugged-out” is how Jolie expresses it with admiration – and deliberately flunking her classes. “She’s so gangsta,” he says, his cadences frequently approximating the slow-jam hip-hop style of the period.
When a player on the team gets arrested, a spot miraculously opens up for Jolie. “At last, I was practically black,” he enthuses in the voiceover narration woven through the film. But the coach (Danny Burstein) keeps him confined to the bench until another mishap or two with his teammates gets him into the game.
Whether or not Jolie’s negligible court skills improve is of little interest to the filmmakers. Instead, the main focus is his yo-yoing affections for Henrietta, who becomes a school pariah when she participates in a sex tape; and white cheerleader Christine (Georgia Ford), the more socially acceptable option.
Since Christine’s angry ex, Ray (EJ Vilche), is reluctant to give her up, someone has to pay. And since Jolie becomes untouchable among his new basketball buddies, it falls to his Indian computer-geek friend Haroon (Eshan Bay) to take a daily beating.
There’s not much that could really be described as a learning arc for Jolie. More by osmosis than actual contemplation, he seems to gain some awareness that stereotypes can be unjust and misleading, and that’s largely due to Henrietta setting him straight on a few things.
Epps is the only member of the cast who gets beyond the script’s jokey limitations to create a character. While Ross is funny enough, Jolie is too narrowly drawn and chronically clueless not to wear thin.
There may still be fresh humor to be mined from the cultural phenomenon of white-bread teens borrowing black swagger, but Andalman and Munro rarely stumble upon it. The filmmakers do themselves a disservice by including a visual nod to a great barbed comedy about youth and the hunger for coolness, Welcome to the Dollhouse. It doesn’t help to be reminded of the acid humor and odd poignancy of the Todd Solondz movie while registering the banality of this one.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Next)
Cast: Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Nuri Hazzard, Leo Fitzpatrick, Danny Burstein, EJ Vilche, Edward Christian, Richard Lorr
Production company: Milkshake
Director-screenwriter-producer-editors: David Andalman, Mariko Munro
Executive producers: Vinay Singh, Jason Sosnoff
Director of photography: Ian Bloom
Production designer: Naomi Munro
Music: Kieran Magzul
Costume designer: Allison Pearce
Sales: Cinetic Media
No rating, 81 minutes.
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