Review: Skate Kitchen (2018)


Skating is largely perceived as a male street sport, and this view hasn’t been helped by those with a platform who have perpetuated the idea that it should continue to be dominated by boys and men - like when the world’s highest paid skateboarder was printed in Thrasher (in June 2013) saying that, “skateboarding is not for girls at all.” Nyjah Huston quickly said sorry for his remarks but it takes more than a Twitter apology to reverse the damage that someone of that standing can do in a single interview. Skate Kitchen is the ideal remedy to call out mistaken, misogynistic opinions about women in sport and is cinematic proof there is a safe space for female skaters in the world. Oh, and also, just so we're clear: girls skate hard.

Skate Kitchen premiered at Sundance and is centred around an all-girl skateboarding crew. The cast of the film is made of up real skateboarders who shred on the streets and in the parks of New York City. The narrative follows Camille (Rachelle Vinberg – a founding member of the real-life collective), a female skater who we first see injuring herself when her board lands awkwardly, causing bleeding and the need for a set of stitches, much to her mother’s distress. The physical pain Camille feels is secondary only to the yearning she has to get back on her board, though, and thanks to an Instagram page call out, she finds a crew to hang and skate with who become much more than mere acquaintances who follow each other online.

The joy that beams from the girls as they walk/dance/skate/drop-in off bins down the street singing along to ‘Move Your Feet’ by Junior Senior (which is perfectly mixed out of the diegesis onto the soundtrack) epitomises how unapologetically they live their lives. Pure awe is captured on camera with a close up of Camille as she realises that this is how her life could be too. Thankfully, this close and character-centred approach to the story-telling is consistent throughout.

For Camille, at the start of the film skating is an escape, a release and freedom from her overbearing mother, and this is reflected when the scenes of her skating solo are caught on camera. As she carves down the street, weaving in smooth waves (with the odd effortless revert or two - see gif below), slow motion is used to capture the beauty of her seamless power and strength, with Aska Matsumiya’s score the perfect audio counterpart to the temporary ecstasy that skating can provide. Then, as she develops a rapport with the Skate Kitchen girls and becomes integrated into their circle, skating becomes a necessity, a straight route outta Long Island to NYC, and it introduces her not only to new people, but to herself, curing her loneliness in the process. This is echoed by her friend Janay’s comments: “I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can’t skate anymore. That’s my whole life.” Her skateboard is a vice, an addiction, but it’s also something that she is ‘mad good’ at.

Camille is an excellent lead character and it is such a thrill to watch as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery with her skateboard in hand. But the supporting cast are incredible too. Kurt (played by Nina Moran) has a personality as loud as her shirt collection and nobody can clap back like her – she’s the friend you didn’t even realise you needed in your life. When an onlooker on a random NYC stairway asks as the girls walk by holding their decks: “Hey, can you do an ollie?” Kurt responds with a deadpan expression: ‘No, bro. I’m a poser.” Before walking down the street and laughing with her girls: “I thought this was just an accessory? It’s my purse.” One of her best one-liners is delivered when she meets Camille for the first time and is encouraging her to land a trick for one of Ruby’s clips. As Camille almost collides with a couple of male skaters in the park, Kurt blurts out, “Damn, too many penises in the way,” perfectly summarising the plight of underrepresented women in any male dominated space across the world in one crass sentence.

The other characters that the audience are introduced to in parks, at parties and round Janay’s house are all convincingly written and acted. As you might predict based on stereotypes, some of the skaters fit the ‘dude’ bill perfectly. Some have a rebellious streak. Others are creative types into photography and ‘getting clips’. They are all fiercely loyal. Most importantly, what they do as a collective is to dethrone any previous conceptions of what skateboarding was as a subculture, and rewrite what it is now, or at least what it can be: a home, a sisterhood, a brotherhood - a family. Camille, Janay, Kurt, Ruby, Indigo, Eliza, Quinn, Devon, Charlie are fictitious characters, but Skate Kitchen is a product of its time and as a commentary of what it’s like to be growing up in America today, it goes a lot further to portray what opposing the status quo looks like from a female perspective than many other so-called teen movies.

Talking of teen movies… There is a ‘love story’ of sorts but thankfully the boy meets girl chapter is a small part of the film and doesn’t transpire into an unrealistic fairytale-like relationship where the romantic arc overpowers everything else. Instead, restraint is shown with the level of sentimentality displayed and the love interest that Camille has is temporary and further serves her own journey of self-discovery as she navigates the complex mind-fuckery of being a teenager with feelings. In one scene, Camille innocently asks: “When do you know? How do you know…when you like them? How do you know if you like a guy? How do you know when they like you?’ Of course, you’ll have to watch the film yourself to see whether she finds the answers to these questions.

Importantly, rather than man-bashing or portraying a gender gap between the male and female skaters in the film as one filled with complete animosity and division, Skate Kitchen instead takes a more realistic, balanced approach, pointing out casual sexism through micro-aggressions in the dialogue like, “Make sure she can keep up,” to which Devon rolls his eyes and to which Camille interprets as a chance to show the guys what she’s got – resultantly, this night ride when Camille first skates with the boys is one of the most iconic scenes of the film, especially against the backdrop of Khalid's 'Young, Dumb & Broke'. If anything, Moselle is more focused on highlighting toxic attitudes of people who hold regressive opinions about women only existing to serve others – one of Camille’s mother’s first reactions to her injuring herself was, “Next time you might not be able to have kids,” for example. At the beginning of the film, there may be a niggling worry at the back of your mind that Camille is going to get hurt, but as the story unfolds, you realise she already is, and skating is not the problem.

Under the direction of Crystal Moselle, we are privy to the experience of city life for young men and women. Thanks to the cinematography of Shabier Kirchner, New York City is framed with authenticity and we move through it with exploratory irreverence. Credit to screenwriters Aslihan Unaldi and Jennifer Silverman for pulling friendship, family, sexuality, social media, womenhood and societal issues together in a film that celebrates an overlooked (and misunderstood) subculture. The characters are daring, courageous, talented, funny and loveable. They travel together, teach and mentor each other, and overcome huge obstacles together – and not just literal roadblocks. We should all be more skater.

In a GQ Sports Youtube video, Tony Hawk, one of most well-known pro skaters talks about how Gleaming the Cube “probably has one of the most legit skate scenes because it was all pro skaters.” Besides completely snubbing Lords of Dogtown in said interview, Hawk doesn’t mention Skate Kitchen either, but his response would surely change if he were to watch it. As the Skate Kitchen kids would say: that shit was valid.

 

Verdict: This Triple F-Rated gem will have you in awe at the audacity of an inspirational all-female skate crew of diverse change-makers, inspiring a future generation of girls to do whatever the fuck they want. Skate or die, bitch!

Overall? ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Big screen appeal? 🎬🎬

Accolade eligibility? 💡💡💡💡💡

Study-worthy? 📚📚📚📚

 

Director: Crystal Moselle

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival; released on 28th September 2018 in the UK.

Skate Kitchen is currently available to rent on the BFI Player or to watch on Amazon Prime.

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