D: Crystal Moselle / 106m
Cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Ardelia Lovelace, Nina Moran, Jaden Smith, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kabrina Adams, Ajani Russell, Jules Lorenzo, Tashiana Washington, Hisham Tawfiq
Camille (Vinberg) is an eighteen year old Long Islander who spends much of her free time on her skateboard, or watching skateboarding videos on her phone. When she suffers a nasty accident falling off her board, her mother (Rodriguez) makes Camille promise not to continue with it. But it’s not long before Camille goes against her mother’s wishes. Discovering that an all-female skateboard collective called Skate Kitchen meets up regularly in New York City, Camille decides to go. She’s welcomed by the group, and soon she’s spending as much time as she can with them, while lying to her mother about her whereabouts. When Camille’s deception is discovered, it causes a falling out between her and her mother, and Camille ends up staying with Janay (Lovelace), one of the Skate Kitchen crew. She gets a job in a store, and becomes friends with a male skateboarder, Devon (Smith). When Janay suffers an ankle injury and is laid up at home, Camille starts to hang out more and more with Devon, but as their friendship grows, Camille learns that Janay has feelings for Devon as well…
Expanded from the short That One Day (2016), which also featured Vinberg and the Skate Kitchen crew, this feature length look at skateboarding culture and what it means for a group of young women is a mesmerising, accomplished movie that leaves the viewer in no doubt as to the sense of camaraderie and friendship that being part of Skate Kitchen provides. Camille is looking for somewhere to belong. Her parents are divorced, and though she lives with her mother, their relationship is often a rocky one. Skateboarding, with its semi-underground status and its own code of conduct allows Camille to feel that she’s a part of something bigger than herself, something that as she herself puts it, stops her from feeling “alone”. But Camille is also an eighteen year old whose life experience is far behind the likes of Janay and Nina (Moran), and though she feels right at home in their company – and female solidarity is an important aspect of being in the group – the potential for a romantic relationship with Devon eventually causes a rift that has the further potential to see Camille alone again. It’s that old coming-of-age dilemma: whether to stick with your friends, or move on – while being aware of the consequences.
This is Moselle’s first feature – she also made the intriguing documentary The Wolfpack (2015) – and the connection she’s made with the Skate Kitchen crew allows for a movie that has a fictional storyline but which also has an air of verisimilitude that grounds the action in a much greater reality than would otherwise be expected. There’s a freedom in skateboarding that Moselle captures through expressive, almost rhythmical camerawork, as the girls weave along sidewalks and in and out of traffic, their confidence and the ebullience they exhibit highlighting the sheer pleasure they must be experiencing. And it’s clear from the amount of bruises and scrapes the crew all display throughout the movie that no one’s faking any of it (well, except for Smith, who needed a skateboarding double). Away from the various skate parks and improvised bouts of boardslides and kickflips, the narrative is kept fairly simple, as Camille learns from her friends about love and sex, and she gets into deep water because of her uncertain attraction to Devon. Vinberg is a convincing ingenue, and though the Skate Kitchen members are basically playing themselves, there’s a freshness and a spontaneity about all of them that wouldn’t have been captured if they’d been played by actresses. And again, it’s this verisimilitude that makes the movie feel honest and sincere in its approach, and which helps it feel more like a slice of life than something carefully orchestrated or put together.
Rating: 8/10 – a wonderfully bright and affirming look at a sub-culture most of us will be unfamiliar with, Skate Kitchen is short on plot but big on friendship and young women looking out for each other (sadly, most of the male skateboarders are prideful dicks); it’s exactly the kind of movie that will make you want to go out and grab a skateboard and try your own tricks, which makes it not only life affirming, but inspirational too.