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‘Skate Kitchen’ (review)

Produced by Lizzie Nastro, Rodrigo Teixeira,
Julia Nottingham, Michael Sherman,
Matthew Perniciaro, Izabella Tzenkova
Written by Crystal Moselle,
Aslıhan Ünaldı, Jen Silverman
Based on a Story by Crystal Moselle
Directed by Crystal Moselle
Starring Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace,
Nina Moran, Jaden Smith, Kabrina Adams,
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Tashiana Washington
Ajani Russell, Jules Lorenzo,
Brenn Lorenzo,
Hisham Tawfiq,
Alex Cooper

 

Skate Kitchen is Crystal Moselle’s first entry into feature length narrative. An accomplished documentary filmmaker, Moselle delivers a documentary vibe throughout the story. The genesis of the film is almost documentary because Crystal Moselle discovered Rachelle Vinberg.

There is a great interview with Vinberg that describes how it all happened. Rachelle and most of the cast are skateboarders in New York City. They have a widely followed Instagram feed and can really shred. Like the surfers in It Ain’t Pretty, skateboarders speak a different language. It isn’t terribly hard to pick up, but until you do, the dialogue can be a little tough to follow.

The plot follows Camille (Vinberg) as she regularly travels into New York City from Long Island to skate with a group of young women. She quickly integrates into the crew and becomes very close to them. After having a fight with her mother, Camille moves in with one of the friends and the story gets moving…. sort of.

There is an inherent danger to taking something amazingly cool, like a mostly girl skateboard crew, and turning it into a feature film. The conflict seems forced. There is no script to speak of. A lot of the dialogue is just skateboarders hanging out in a crowd talking to each other and while that is interesting up to a point, almost none of it advances the plot. I don’t know if this is the product of having a mostly inexperienced cast that is more comfortable doing tricks on their boards than delivering lines or bad writing. I don’t think it’s bad writing.

About thirty minutes in Camille has a very deep conversation that gives color to the conflict within her family. It is a very well written, well lit and well acted scene. By far the best in the entire film.

I am not a skateboarding aficionado, but since this is a film about a crew of skateboarders starring real skateboarders the action seemed completely authentic. The problem I had with the skateboarding is there wasn’t enough of it. I wanted to see more. Both the men and the women were very cool, doing all sorts of jumps off city obstacles like stairs and rails. If you are going to make a skateboarding film, I feel like it should be at least 75% skateboarding. This wasn’t.

Another issue I had with this film are the shot choices. There are so many awkwardly angled closeups. Do we really need to see more than half the screen filled with a mid-back shot of Vinberg for no apparent reason? Do we need to see 50 similar shots where you don’t get the whole picture and are looking at the scene in an abstract way? If it was supposed to give the movie an art house feel it missed the mark for me. The lighting on a lot of the interiors was insufficient and I found myself having trouble following the conversation.

This film is dominated by Rachelle Vinberg and that is one of the high points. She is in almost 100% of the scenes. She is really likable. She is poised and comfortable in front of the camera and while her emotional range seems limited, I absolutely am grading on a curve here. This isn’t a twenty year screen veteran. This is a kid who shoots Instagram skateboard videos and wound up in a movie. Her performance is impressive when you consider her inexperience.

Jaden Smith co-stars as a the psuedo love interest, point of conflict, Bodhi to Vinberg’s Utah. (This is a Point Break reference and not the crappy 2015 remake, the original, with Swayze and Keanu, released in 1991) He’s subdued in his scenes and totally believable. His hair is dyed red in the film and there is a strange scene about his hair color that seemed forced. I couldn’t tell if was supposed to be or if maybe Moselle decided they needed to talk about it.

I have to talk about Nina Moran. She has a small role as one of the Skate Kitchen crew but she is incredibly charismatic and super fun on the screen. She’s brash and tough and for sure she is Jay Mewes long lost daughter. I mean, the resemblance is uncanny. Mewes is 44, considering what a wild child he was in real life, is it really out of the realm of possibility he fathered a girl that wound up becoming a New York City skate rat? No it is not.

Just to be clear, for all I know Nina Moran comes from a loving two-parent home. On the other hand, if I were Kevin Smith, I would be writing a road comedy where Jay finds his long lost skater daughter and they go on a cross country adventure that is long on shenanigans and skateboarding. I would literally buy that ticket right now as long as Nina Moran was starring as Jay’s daughter. Change my mind. I dare you.

Skate Kitchen is a watchable film with some notable deficiencies.

It’s a New York film, but it’s not a love letter to the city. You don’t get to see New York in all its resplendent glory. It’s a skateboarding film, but the skateboarding winds up as a connecting point rather than a central focus of the plot. It seemed like it was going all dark and gritty in a couple of spots like 1995’s Kids, but it didn’t. It’s a relationship movie, but it doesn’t spend enough time on any of the relationships to either understand the conflict when it arose or be glad when issues were resolved. Skate Kitchen didn’t feel like it had a beginning, middle and end. It felt like they forced the story into the skater group and hoped the audience didn’t notice. I did.

If you are a real skateboard fan you will like this film. First time director, first time actors and what appeared to be a loose script at best. It was an excellent first effort from Mozelle and Vinberg.

2 out of 5 stars.

 

Skate Kitchen is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD

 

 

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