Skate Kitchen is a fantastically evocative low-key tale of a teenage girl’s coming of age within the skate subculture of New York City. Of course, this subject matter recalls Drew Barrymore’s Ellen Page-starring Whip It, and in tone and aesthetic Skate Kitchen also seems like the kind of film Page would have appeared in several years ago (that is, of course, a compliment). But the film it’s most reminiscent of is Jenny Gage’s doc All This Panic, which can only be a testament to the emotional authenticity of the screenplay and the relationships Crystal Moselle portrays.
Skate Kitchen often feels improvised and though this helps create a lively energy that you just want to be a part of, some scenes do run a little long. Thanks to an infectious soundtrack by Phil Canning and apt costume design from Camille Garmendia – including convincing and detailed differentiated looks for all the characters – this is never true of the skateboarding scenes.
Moselle’s second feature (following 2015’s The Wolfpack, another story of a niche NYC enclave) is thoroughly contemporary. With a seemingly effortless and casual grace it documents the intersection of skate and Instagram cultures, triumphantly delivers nuanced portraits of womens’ relationships, and embeds commentary on prejudice aimed at female skaters. An ersatz romance for protagonist Camille (Vinberg) has a predictable and perhaps derivative trajectory, but at least it’s more realistic than the wish fulfilment common in teen movies and romcoms.
Vinberg is luminous and entrancing; she telegraphs loneliness affectingly, and her performance transforms alongside Camille’s character arc to communicate her blossoming confidence.
Skate Kitchen is the real deal; assured, naturalistic storytelling with observational authenticity that must in part be owed to Moselle’s background in documentary. Its emphasis on women’s stories and depiction of a strong, supportive female community feels timely, necessary, and thrilling.
CAST: Rachelle Vinberg, Jaden Smith, Kabrina Adams, Tom Bruno, Thaddeus Daniels
DIRECTOR: Crystal Moselle
WRITERS: Crystal Moselle, Jen Silverman, Aslihan Unaldi
SYNOPSIS: Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders.