Life is defined by the events and obstacles human beings face. How people approach these experiences depends on their maturity and will lead them down a path to either their dreams or their demise. American Milkshake explores these themes as it follows the story of Jolie Jolson (Tyler Ross), a teenager in 1990’s DC with dreams of playing basketball in the NBA. Once he makes his school’s varsity team, his life changes forever. As his past and present begin to clash, Jolie struggles with his personal identity and has to decide what kind of person he wants to be going into college.
Initially it seemed as though Ross’ narration didn’t effectively convey the angst of the character of Jolie but as the film progressed and the audience was allowed to see deeper into his mind, we were shown that he does not show much emotion even in the face of a serious problem.
For example, when confronted by his cheerleader girlfriend Christine about the issue of her unexpected pregnancy, he not only seems indifferent to her crying but also responds with an inconsiderate “Can’t we talk about this after the game? The team really needs me right now.”
At this point in the film, it is more than obvious that Jolie’s selfishness and devotion to his dreams are getting in the way of his personal relationships. In fact, the turning point of this became apparent with a scene in a movie theater. The camera panned across the row to show Jolie with another girl whom he was dating and a basketball in between the seats of Jolie and his best friend, Haroon (Eshan Bay) who was not on the basketball team. It is symbolically showing the distance increasing between Jolie and Haroon, which continues to grow throughout the film.
The set design was kept very basic which increased the audience’s interest on the characters. Although the film moved at a somewhat slow pace, it worked because Jolie was surrounded by a variety of different personalities, all which meshed well with his own.
The acting was very realistic and captured the audience’s attention but I was most impressed with the work of Shareeka Epps (Henrietta). She plays a pregnant teenager who begins failing class on purpose and catches Jolie’s interest through her rebellious nature. She puts on such a tough face throughout the film that adds interest to her character and makes you want to learn more about her. Epps has previously starred beside Ryan Gosling, Emma Roberts, Sam Rockwell, and Rooney Mara.
Not only did this film deal with the struggles of growing up but it also addressed the issues of racism and abortion. The issue of race was sometimes even addressed in comedic ways such as when Jolie makes the team and says “At last I was practically black” and while he’s screaming of excitement in the hallway, an African American student walks past and jokes about “the white people here…” to his friend.
The film really connects with its audience as most people have experienced a time where they have not fit into a group growing up and had to take a good look at themselves before figuring out the next step in life. Here I found myself rooting for Jolie, even looking past his selfishness and ignorance in hopes he would get to one day live his dream because he is imperfect and therefore human but overall a good guy.
American Milkshake, the first feature film of directors, Mariko Munro and David Andalman is a Sundance Film Festival movie that will open in select cities and will be available on VOD Friday, September 6, 2013.
*Published on USC’s Neon Tommy website, 2013.