Skate Kitchen (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Crystal Moselle’s documentary The Wolfpack (2015) is one I’ve seen a few times, having opted to show it to my students on multiple occasions. When I heard she made a narrative film about a group of skateboarders in New York City, I was determined to catch it as soon as it became available. Luckily, Hulu just added it to their line up, and I was able to watch it before the New Year.

Skate Kitchen is engaging and contemplative in its story

The film follows Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), who is living in New Jersey and approaching adulthood, as well as the desire to break away from her slightly overprotective mother. She injures herself skateboarding, and her mother makes her promise to never skate again. Instead, Camille finds a skatepark in New York City that is far enough away that she believes she can keep pursuing her love behind her mother’s back. She meets a group of other girl skaters, and friendship quickly forms.

Much like how Moselle discovered the boys featured in her documentary, most of the actresses in this film are actual skateboarders that Moselle saw in the city. Instead of making a documentary, she opted to craft a narrative, but showcased the girl’s actual skateboarding talents. Many of the skating scenes are really strong, and feature some great tracking shots. A major theme in the film (and one that appears to be based on reality) is that girls are a minority in the world of skateboarding. Camille’s mother doesn’t think it’s right for her to do it, the guys at the skate park are more than disrespectful to the group, and the regular opponents to the skaters seem to think less of the females involved in the sport.

A major idea of the film isn’t about the boarding as much as the community and surrogate family found within the sport. The girls all have each other, but Devon (Jaden Smith) has a group of his own who primarily oppose the girl skaters. They don’t think they take the sport seriously, but that is where Camille throws a wrench in the whole idea. She seems to be the best of the girls, and is able to hang with the “superior” guys. Camille is essentially thrown into the middle of three forces; her mother, her new family, and her desire to earn the respect of the boys…and maybe a little something else.

Camille’s naivety is seen early on, but the extent of her inexperience becomes more apparent as she gets closer with the skaters. She has lived a sheltered life, and Moselle’s exploration of it makes for some extremely compelling storytelling. Camille is shy at first, but as her comfort grows and her desire to fit in increases, she starts asking questions that one wouldn’t expect an 18-year-old would need to ask. “How do you know if a boy likes you” is one Camille lobs at one of the other girls, who gives her an incredulous look in response. While we only get a few specifics about Camille’s early life, there is much one can infer and piece together as we spend time with her.

Final thoughts…

All of the non-actors do a solid job, and even Jaden Smith – often a film killer – performs admirably. Moselle proves she’s got a unique talent and a knack for storytelling. I look forward to her next compelling discovery as she lives her daily life. She’s not afraid to find someone’s story and figure out a way of telling it to the world. Skate Kitchen earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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