Director: Crystal Moselle
15 | 1h 46min | Drama | 28 September 2018 (UK)
The last film I saw from writer/director Crystal Moselle was the beguiling documentary The Wolfpack, which involved her immersing herself in the lives of a tightly knit, unusual family unit. Skate Kitchen, her immensely likeable new film, is built on a similar approach of hugging tight to a complex group and capturing the rhythms and flows. The titular Skate Kitchen are a skater girl crew from New York famed for their Instagram-broadcast exploits, loved as much for their sisterhood and their fearless carving out of territory in typically male-dominated spaces as for their skate tricks. Moselle spent months immersed in the lives of the girls and working closely with them, shaping a semi-fictional tale of camaraderie out of the time and recruiting the crew to play thinly-veiled versions of themselves. Needles to say, this close-to-the-streets approach offers plenty of that magic air of authenticity, both in the dynamics between the girls as they roll from skate park to house party and back, and the skating tricks on display, some of them VERY painful to watch (you will wince when you learn was it means to suffer a ‘credit card’).
Moselle early on establishes a nice editing rhythm; switching from flowing alongside the girls on their skateboards (fine work by DP Shabier Kirchner) as they race around various back alleys and unseen spaces in the Big Apple, and then jumping us into bedrooms or onto rooftop hangout spaces where the girls chill and switch between talking shit, empathising, and teasing out confessions. Skating, drugs, genital preferences, menstruation; there is a frankness and authentic air to the chatter. There is a newcomer to the crew though, whose cautious feeling out of her space in the group and her own sense of identity gives the film its main story spine. Real-life Skate Kitchen member Rachelle Vinburg does a decent job as the introverted 18-year-old skateboarder Camille, who hails from Long Island and a household with a conservative-minded single mother. Vinburg gives Camille the right not-yet-moulded feel of a teen still figuring out what she likes and doesn’t like, and how open she can be in declaring her tastes to a group of girls she doesn’t know well yet. After a hair-raising injury, Camille promises her mother she’ll hang up her board, but the pull to skate with the Skate Kitchen remains too strong, and more drama kicks up later on when Camille befriends a boy from a rival group of skaters, who also was dating one of the Skate Kitchen crew.
I much preferred just watching the girls do tricks and shoot the shit than these two plot arcs, which feel pat and forced onto a film which doesn’t need them. But for the most part, Moselle sticks to the good stuff: magic hour kickflips and an atmosphere of solidarity and ‘come as you are’ that has made the Skate Kitchen so appealing to young women worldwide. There is an ear worm of a soundtrack too, which will probably have you on the SkateKitchen Spotify playlist long after the film is over.