Coming-of-age flicks are the new ‘post-apocalyptic young adult drama’; they’re everywhere. Skate Kitchen, however, has a lot more going for it than its synopsis suggests.
Originally a short film, then a documentary and, finally, a fictional story based on reality, Skate Kitchen is the brainchild of director Crystal Moselle and all-girl, New York-based skate collective The Skate Kitchen. The film opens with Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) skating in her local Long Island park and injuring herself in a way known to skaters as “getting credit carded”. Once her recovery is complete and an oath to never skate again is sworn to her mother, she ventures into New York City to meet the Skate Kitchen girls. The plot slowly progresses with scenes of mischief, partying, love triangles and arguments, as is seen in most films of the genre.
What sets Skate Kitchen apart is its dedication to aesthetic; characters are filmed in close-ups for the vast majority of the feature and skate sequences are captured with a low angle and steadicam for an authentic skate montage feel. As remarked upon by an audience member in the post-feature Q&A at HOME, Crystal has truly managed to capture the essence of New York. As pretty as a helicopter shot of the Empire State may be, no human on foot will ever see the city in that way. This feel is further accentuated by the attention paid to sound design; from the wheel squeaks and chatter of the skate parks to the rolling trucks of the boards down a busy avenue filled with cars and people, this portrayal of New York is authentic and raw.
This dedication to aesthetic comes with a sacrifice: the pacing of the story. Allowing the camera to linger on a character for a couple seconds longer than expected builds atmosphere but slows the narrative flow. Another strange choice for the film is the dialogue. While slightly awkward at first, it seems to improve slightly as the story moves through its arc. As explained by the cast in the Q&A, all the phrases said in the film had actually been said by them before filming, essentially making the story a reenactment of parts of their lives, as opposed to a completely fictional tale.
The Q&A greatly enhanced the audience’s experience by contextualising the story within the real world. Crystal met the Skate Kitchen girls on the New York subway one day and, as their friendship progressed, they brainstormed a documentary which then became the story of Skate Kitchen.
Accepting the sacrifices made for aesthetic purposes, Skate Kitchen is an immersive, raw story that is relatable to most audiences, regardless of whether you’re a die-hard skater or not.
Skate Kitchen releases in the UK on 28 September.