An immersive insight into female skate culture
For her first feature film, Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle has chosen to manipulate her cinematic experience of documentary making to cultivate a story about skater girls that feels both real and dynamic. Moselle’s first film, The Wolfpack, was a documentary in 2015 about six brothers who devise their understanding of the world from watching movies. While Skate Kitchen is a dramatic piece, it still feels very much like Moselle’s previous film, tracing the lives of teenagers who all seem to have a shared passion.
We are first introduced to Camille, a quiet teenage skateboarder who has considerable friction with her mum. As a means of escape from her Long Island enclosure, Camille heads to New York where she befriends an all-girl skater group called The Skate Kitchen. As she gradually becomes closer to her newfound crew, Camille simultaneously falls out of touch with her mother and begins to develop feelings for an enigmatic skater played by Jaden Smith (playing a quirky version of himself).
From the off, the movie is not afraid to show and discuss taboo-film topics like periods and tampons, delving into the comical discussions between the girls and their sexual preferences. This is where the film establishes itself in its own right, as most of the cast are not professional actors. They are everyday skaters which plays to Moselle’s strengths as she uses the camera in inventive ways, utilising close ups to make it seem as though we’re interrupting intimate conversations between real people.
Rachelle Vinberg plays Camille well, giving off a sense of solemn awkwardness at the start and genuine joy when skating. She is, like the rest of the cast, brilliant at skateboarding and does well not to overplay Camille, drawing focus to the skateboarding in the film, not her lack of acting experience. Likewise, Nina Moran is excellent as Kurt, the hilariously fowl mouthed leader of the group who isn’t afraid to fight the boys who bully her. However, some of the skaters are not as good at acting, delivering lines with wooden guise which occasionally is frustrating.
However, because the dialogue isn’t polished and is more improvisational, this doesn’t seem to matter that much. This is also true of the general plot, as the growing disenfranchisement between Camille and her mother is a side feature and becomes slightly overly dramatized towards the end. There is more fun to be had watching Camille hang around with girls who, like her, feel happiest when engaging in a male dominated pastime; skateboarding.
Skate Kitchen is at its best when showing beautiful, deep long shots of the skaters drifting through the streets of New York. The soundtrack elevates this further as its funky electronic, disco undertones perfectly complement the pure adrenaline fuelled moments when the girls are on their boards. At its heart, the film is an experience, made to immerse you in skate culture.
By incorporating a fictionalised story into the real world of skating, Moselle has created a fascinating insight into adolescent culture in New York. We are shown their daytime activities as well as their nightlife as they go to a party with drugs and sexual promiscuity abound. But these moments are rare because, for these girls, skating is all that really matters. Their acting might sometimes be flawed but their passion when they ride on a board cannot be faked.
Character developments and relationships sometimes seem to progress more quickly than anticipated because more time in the film is devoted to just watching the girls skate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as watching Camille do a 360 on her board is perpetually entertaining. But the thin central plot does mean the second half of the film lags a bit.
Skate Kitchen is not a thrill ride, but neither is it boring. It is an immersive experience (hence why real skaters were used) which shines when we are shown Camille’s gang doing something which they love in a domain which is mainly dominated by men. Throughout it all, the importance of camaraderie is ever-present.