Skate Kitchen Review
Crystal Moselle sprung to the attention of many with her 2015 documentary hit The Wolfpack, which inserted us into a family who had sheltered their seven children from the outside world since birth. Her first fictional feature, Skate Kitchen, does something similar by following a group of young skater girls on the fringes of the culture in New York, giving the skating movie playbook a fresh perspective and a much needed jab in the arm.
The characters Moselle embeds herself into are a group of real-life teenage skaters who go by the name The Skate Kitchen, each one taking on a fictional name but very much playing out their own personalities. In that respect the film is something of a docu-drama, working to a constructed narrative but mostly just spending time hanging out with the girls and seeing life from their perspective.
Founding member of The Skate Kitchen, Rachel Vinberg, stars as Camille, a quietly determined 18-year-old in Long Island who lives to skate at her local park. Her mother isn’t too keen on her tomboy style of dress and tries to put a stop to it after Camille has a minor accident that cuts her between the legs (“credit card-ed” says another girl later in the film). Rule number one with raising any teenager: Try to prevent them from doing something they like and you can guarantee they’ll find a way to do it.
Flicking through Instagram Camille finds a group of skater girls who are having a session in Manhattan and she sneaks out the next day while her mother is at work. She’s soon embedded into the group and spending every day of the summer with her new friends but when her mother finds out they have an explosive argument and Camille is put up by Janay (Dede Lovelace). She gets a part-time job at a local grocery store and it all seems to be working out until she gets close to Devon (Jaden Smith), a skater from a rival crew and Janay's ex.
The appearance of Smith is a little off-putting at first, placing a recognisable star into a world firmly grounded in reality. To his credit he manages to blend in and give the same naturalistic performance as those around him, although there is always the possibility that his poor acting ability makes it work. Romantic narrative aside, it is the interplay between this group of young women that makes Skate Kitchen a delight to watch, allowing us to sit back and observe their world and culture.
Vinberg gets most of the screen time appearing in almost every shot but the rest of the crew feel just as comfortable in front of the camera and Moselle does a good job of not becoming too intrusive, always letting the conversation flow naturally. Whether it’s talking about tampons, drugs, guys or learning new tricks on their board, their lives feel real and tactile enough for to keep you hooked and see what the next day holds in store.
Some may recall Larry Clark’s Kids which achieved something similar back in the mid-90s but Skate Kitchen features none of the same sensationalism disguised as ‘real life’. There is nothing original about the story but that’s because there doesn’t have to be: it’s recognisable because it’s an arc we’ve all seen or experienced ourselves growing up. Girls, boys, drugs and messing around is what it's all about. Which is why it’s great to see a film taking such an unfussy approach to being a young woman, representing not only a female skating community rarely seen in cinema but teenage girls everywhere.