Review: Skate Kitchen

Written and directed by Crystal Moselle, co-written by Jen Silverman and Aslihan Unaldi, a teenaged skateboarder makes friends with a bunch of other skateboarding girls in New York City. Starring: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Nina Moran, Kabrina Adams, Ajani Russell, Jules Lorenzo, Brenn Lorenzo, Jaden Smith, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Alexander Cooper.

It’s rare to get a film with as interesting of a backstory as this one, if you try to look up the actresses who feature in the film you’ll notice that they all have basically the same filmography because they’re all real-life skateboarders who the director met on the subway and asked them to be in her short film. Moselle then wanted to make a documentary about the group but instead decided to make it a dramatized version of their lives, which meant months of acting classes, improv classes and rehearsals to pull together the final product, a genuine visualisation of the lives of young skateboarders in NYC. It’s the equivalent of starring in your own biopic but the sheer trust and care that went into making this project is inspiring, Moselle took a real chance on a group of young women with vibrant personalities and sparkling raw energy and she put in the time to make something real and authentic.

Knowing that these young women are all playing slightly different versions of themselves makes so much sense when you see it play out because they’re all unbelievably natural, the chemistry and friendships that they share are stunning things to watch. A lot of the burden lands on Vinberg, the film is undoubtedly an ensemble effort but she takes the lead with the story focusing on her character Camille and for a newcomer she hits it out of the park, she’s flawed but very sympathetic. One of the fantastic things is that they all have individual personalities, they’re unique, they don’t fit any traditional mould of what a teenage girl should be which is exactly what you want from this film. It’s a diverse, fun group of teenagers with a shared passion for skateboarding, they’re utterly dedicated to it and it’s motivating to watch but at the same time they don’t try to take themselves too seriously, they enjoy themselves. Their group dynamic is very interesting, they each have slightly different friendships with one another but they still move as one group; Camille’s fast-growing friendship with Janay (Lovelace) has an intriguing almost romantic edge to it, blurring the lines slightly but never crossing them. Each of the actresses provide genuine emotion to the story, it shows how close to their own lives it was through the effortless way it has in feeling authentic.

The film opens in such a bold and raw manner that it sets the tone so well for what’s to come, it’s easy to see how execs might be put off with its slightly bloody nature but it’s almost a shock to the system for a film to actually handle a moment like that with such honesty. Added to the immediate rush of strong, vibrant energy that comes through with the direction, it’s a genuinely invigorating experience. The writing hits a lot of new notes to female friendships that many other films have missed, it handles them and the story as a whole in a much more realistic, unfiltered manner. The directorial style accurately reflects its characters, it truly embraces the culture of skateboarding and holds that youthful, brash tone that comes with it. The cinematography pushes that further by capturing the movement, speed and agility that comes with skateboarding, as well as the bluntness of many bailed out tricks. Altogether it brings forth an authentic teen experience, guiding you through anxiety, family problems, sex, friendship, heartbreak, drugs, social media and the rush of connecting with a group of people who have the same obsessions as you.

However, considering the first cut of the film was around five hours long and finally cut down to its 109-minutes, it’s surprising that the film still has a little issue with pacing, it starts off so well but as things start to slow down, it loses a little of its energy and doesn’t stride as confidently into its final scenes. There’s also a rather understated ending which may prove unsatisfying for some viewers (although you can now just switch over to HBO’s Betty, which was already renewed for its second season), it has a lovely way of rounding out the story without everything needing to be expressed verbally but taking into account that slowing of pace, a more punchy ending could have compensated for it. It’s a difficult line to walk while trying to be true to the people and story that you’re telling but making it a compelling film for those watching, ultimately it feels as though Moselle rightly chose to do justice to her stars rather than give in to commercial appeal.

Skate Kitchen is raw, honest, energetic, vibrant and authentic, there’s some real talent taking to the screen here in these skateboarders turned actresses. It creates a story that a lot of women will be able to relate to and creates roles that some might be able to see themselves reflected in, no matter the generation. It’s one of the few films to tackle a genuine teenage experience without trying to stick a rose coloured lens on it or amp up the melodramatics. It’s not perfect but what Moselle has achieved here is something special, after countless years of stories about young women focusing purely on their romantic interests or making them vapid, unintelligent vessels for shallow stories, it’s turning a real corner to see a story like this and hopefully many more will follow.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ ½

Available now on Amazon Prime Video

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