Review: Skate Kitchen

Rebellious teens come in all shapes, sizes, and modes of seriousness, and thus are reliably timeless as cinematic characters. The hook for this debut feature by Crystal Moselle is that it’s based on a popular Instagram account and uses the subjects of that account as actors mostly playing themselves, though the plot is contrived and even a bit elaborate. The world depicted is that of female skateboarders in Manhattan, most of whom enjoy very little in the way of family life or educational opportunities. Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a dedicated skater living out on Long Island, falls into this milieu after injuring herself while skating and receiving a command from her worried Spanish-speaking mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) that she can no longer partake of the pastime, so in order to avoid her mother’s gaze she takes the train into the city to do her thing.

The title of the film is taken from the Instagram account, but its ironical gender-identified overtones help sell a story that’s pointedly centered on female solidarity. Moselle sets up a clear divide between the group of girl skaters that Camille hangs out with and the boys who often invade their space. At this young age, the girls have learned not to trust the boys too much, even though some of them are dating and even shacking up. Since Camille is for the most part reserved, it takes her some time to open up to this crew, whose New York attitude is played for all its worth. Camille’s skills are unimpeachable, but her lack of ballsy boldness initially means she has to hang back and let her new acquaintances steer her toward self-actualization, which some will interpret as borderline delinquency and others as maturity through the back door, so to speak. In any event, Camille’s new secret life becomes full blown in that she moves in with a new friend, Janay (Dede Lovelace) and her family, making the fateful break from her own.

Intrigued viewers should understand that, while there are drugs and sex involved, this isn’t a Larry Clark movie. In fact, dramatically it tends more toward an after-school soap opera than a gritty urban cautionary tale. Consequently, it’s often difficult to tell what these kids really want, a situation that may have more to do with their undeveloped acting chops than Moselle’s undeveloped narrative skills. Nevertheless, as a depiction of a closed-off culture it works surprisingly well, and the skating sequences are thrillingly executed. Moreover, anyone who wants to know about the spiritual boundaries that separate Long Island from the city will learn a lot from this movie, which gets the mood just right.

Now playing in Tokyo at Cine Quinto Shibuya (03-3477-5905).

Skate Kitchen home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2017 Skate Girl Film LLC

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