Peeking at a subculture that is still dominated by men in the minds of many, Crystal Moselle’s second feature film Skate Kitchen takes a look at a girl gang who breaks out of the gender stereotypes and grows into a broader metaphor.
In the film’s opening scene, we watch Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) perform a stunt on her skateboard that gets her “credit-carded”. When she gets up, a bloody stain all over her trousers attracts ridicule from the passers-by, but that’s the least she deals with – her injury leads her straight into a gynaecologist’s chair. In the aftermath, her mum forbids the girl skateboarding. Camille opposes, but she gives in silently when her mother reminds her that another injury might cause her infertility. Shortly after, her parent asks her if she’d like to go shopping to wear more “feminine” clothes, ineptly trying to help her daughter to fit in. These few scenes that open the film tell you so much about being a woman – about the pain and the choices that each girl must face as she grows up, and as she goes through her life – but there’s far more of these little gems to come. And this coming-of-age story only introduces us to the world of young adults of New York’s skating culture and a very special girl group at its heart.
The director, filming her first fictional feature film after her debut documentary The Wolfpack, once again displays a great skill for observation. That shines through the film’s fabric particularly when it comes to subtleties and undercurrents in the subculture she depicts, and even more so when she allows the girls to simply be themselves and coaches them to the best of their ability. A team of first-time actors, who are a part of a skating collective in real life, jump at the opportunity to create characters that are astonishingly easy-going and natural. Watching them blending the topics, emotions and reactions they know into a smooth narrative feels like glancing at an extremely engaging reflection of real life. These flittering moments introduce us to the lightness and sense of freedom projected by the group. Seeing them so happy and carefree, hanging out in the skate parks and messing about on the streets, makes the time fly by – even if little is happening on the story level, it’s full of delightful details that make all of them fleshed-out, fascinating individuals. Even though Camille is at the film’s forefront, none of the heroines falls behind her story.
The film’s disarming honesty manifests in the conversations that the girls have between each other: be it the confessions about their crushes, frank chats about gaslighting or talks about periods and tampons. Camille tries to figure herself out: she hangs out with the group that offers her a certain lifestyle she founds appealing and a sense of belonging. Half-imitating their norms, half-curating her own style, she dives into the world that has opened up to her. In a welcoming posse, she feels safe to pick up an occasional joint and shyly ask a friend about the feelings you should experience when you like a guy; the tight-knit bunch makes her one of their own as soon as she appears. But even if she appreciates the companion of her new friends, she isn’t inclined to follow everything they do or take every piece of their advice. Moselle developed a story that gives the protagonist a lot of space for soul-search – including the insecurity, cautiousness, mistakes and forgiveness in the process.
But Skate Kitchen allows the parent-child relationship to blossom, too, unravelling a particularly interesting – and underutilised from the plot’s perspective – family situation that enlightens us on the overcompensating protectiveness that Camille’s mother indulges in. The protagonist turns against her, determined to choose her own path and courting danger as all teens do; however, she explains the need for her advice and companionship as she deals with puberty in one of the most touching scenes of the entire film. The film fades a little when it comes to Camille’s romance with her friend’s ex (Jaden Smith, the only “big name” on the payroll). Their interactions feel a little cold and rushed from the outset, making their relationship and the events around it pretty predictable.
Making good use of distinct observations, the director managed to create a story that works as a tale of a sisterhood allied by their biggest passion. But it also drip-feeds us the facts of being a woman in a broader sense. Moselle helms a great collaboration: at the forefront, there are fresh-faced, excited newcomers that tell the story they own in many ways, sure to inspire other girls to break out of what society told them to be.
Skate Kitchen opens in the UK on the 28th of September 2018.
- Skate Kitchen (2018)