Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen is her sixth venture into the world of directing, and features a primarily female fronted cast, led by Rachelle Vinberg in her first feature length film. Vinberg plays Camille, an isolated teenager who enjoys nothing more than skateboarding and scrolling through her Instragram feed.
Upon following the female skateboarding collective ‘The Skate Kitchen’ closely on the platform, she attends one of their meet ups in NYC and quickly befriends them. From this Camille begins to navigate adolescence with her new friends in tow, as opposed to being alone with her mum in their suburban Long Island house.
I didn’t know what to except when going into the preview – organised by Film Hub Midlands in conjunction with Telford & Wrekin Council – having avoided researching the film until I was able to catch a screening. But I imagined it would be more of a documentary that focuses on the technical side of skateboarding. And despite this not being the forefront of the film, it was still woven successfully into the narrative to create a good balance of realism and fiction. You’re able to see that Moselle’s approach to the subject is authentic and well researched; indeed, the writer/director initially approached The Skate Kitchen girls after seeing them on the subway and was curious to know more, which is what spawned the making of the eponymous film.
At its core though, Skate Kitchen is not just a skateboarding documentary or drama piece but a modern coming of age film – one that is primarily (and successfully) directed towards females, as opposed to the relationship between them and their male peers which can often be the focus of such films. Although Skate Kitchen does touch upon this too.
Compiled of relative newcomers (apart from Jaden Smith), the cast is what makes Skate Kitchen unique and charming. The girls aren’t trying to fit into their assigned roles and the characters they play just seem like an extension of themselves, which makes sense given Moselle’s approach to the film. Due to the ease of their performances and how natural their chemistry is, it makes Skate Kitchen feel authentic and intimate, like a fly on the wall witnessing real life conversations amongst a group of girlfriends. There are no weak performances within the cast, with each member bringing a distinct personality and something individual to the film. I felt this particularly extended to Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), whose character is played with such realism it almost felt like a documentary; Lovelace is really enjoyable and interesting to watch which makes it easy to invest, emphasise, and root for her throughout.
Skate Kitchen’s strengths go further than being well cast and directed; the film doesn’t just explore the world of females occupying the typically male dominated domain of skateboarding, but goes beyond that to incorporate the classic coming of age tropes in a fresh, modern way. This makes it accessible to those in their teenage years, especially female viewers.
Topics that are typically shied away from are spoken about and shown in length; scenes where Camille discusses periods, tampons, sexuality, and family relationships are dealt with frankly and with blunt honesty – mainly from Kurt (played affectionately and charismatically by Nina Moran). It’s through this approach that Skate Kitchen does the job of expelling and diminishing stigma around such natural issues, alerting audiences to the fact that these are simply normal.
Concepts such as fractured families, finding freedom, body dysmorphia, and first loves are also shown throughout the course of the film, but none of them feel underdeveloped or skimmed over, with all of them fitting comfortably within the film’s narrative.
The only pitfall is that despite having strong themes, it didn’t feel as though there was much of a definitive plot to Skate Kitchen. There was no big, main, end goal. But this doesn’t detract too much, as the film presents itself as more of an exploration of coming of age as opposed to a succinct story about it. In a way this even works to the film’s favour, as it makes it more true to life; Skate Kitchen still ends up where it needs to.
Although I did feel this issue diminished the opportunity to develop certain narratives, especially when it came to Camille’s relationship with her mum – played by Elizabeth Rodriguez (better known from her performance as Aleida Diaz in Orange is the New Black). At the beginning of the film, Camille’s mum is a constant on screen – banning her daughter from skating after she ‘credit cards’ herself on the board. Camille disregards this and, to add insult to injury, starts travelling to New York regularly to meet up and practice with the girls from The Skate Kitchen.
Halfway into the film their mother-daughter relationship is in pieces, but it suddenly becomes secondary and fades into the background with them only reconciling briefly on screen near the end. When they do reconcile it’s still touching, and the scenes of Camille holding her mum’s hand whilst guiding her precariously down the street on her board are some of my favourites from the whole film. Yet it would have been nice to see them resolve their issues in a full scene – or for the mum’s narrative to be woven in more evenly throughout the whole film, as opposed to heavily then not at all.
This point also extends to her relationship with The Skate Kitchen girls, after their explosive falling out near the end we don’t see them make up again and it would have been interesting to see how this played out on screen. Although, again, this isn’t necessarily a negative – this approach shows how insignificant and irrelevant teenage arguments can be in the grander scheme, and how things can go back to normal. Rather than showing a scene where they make up verbally, we end with shots of all the girls skating carefree down New York streets with nothing but music, shots of their boards, faces, and the city.
Overall, Skate Kitchen isn’t a film I will be eagerly waiting to re-watch, but I think it’s an important, heart warming, and entertaining film to put on your list. Also the influx of these films – namely ones that are female written and directed, and feature a female dominated cast – are important. They show a perspective not present in a lot of mainstream films and address issues or topics that are often missing too, especially amongst a female teenage or young adult audience – an agenda the UK distribution company for Skate Kitchen, Modern Films, has been working hard to promote.
The use of protagonists from different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds is also a strong tool in storytelling, and allows film to be more readily accessible to a wider range of people. Not only that, but through sharing female experiences via film, audiences can find solace, solidarity, education and guidance that they may be lacking in the public sphere and it opens up a dialogue for certain issues and topics.
Diversity within film has always been important and although there is still a long way to go, with films like Skate Kitchen the future of fair representation does seem a little brighter.
Skate Kitchen – official trailer
Skate Kitchen (rated certificate 15) is out on general release, with screenings at Midlands Art Centre from 12th to 17th October. For more details, including a full programme schedule and links to online bookings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk/event/skate-kitchen-boarders
For more from on Skate Kitchen, visit www.skatekitchen.co.uk
For more on Modern Films, visit www.modernfilms.com
For more on Film Hub Midlands, visit www.filmhubmidlands.org
For more on Midlands Art Centre, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk
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