Director Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen relies on several choice ingredients to elevate her story above the usual urban disaffected-youth drama. That she focuses on a skateboarding crew of real-life girl daredevils who fearlessly fly along the sidewalks and streets of Manhattan like angels on wheels delivers cinematic value as well as irresistible authenticity. That these rough-and-ready stunt artists are naturals onscreen is an added bonus, especially Rachelle Vinberg who stars as Camille. The shy, bespectacled and somewhat naive 18-year-old Long Islander is ready to spread her wings and flee from the smothering clutches of her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez from TV’s Orange is the New Black). Continue reading…
Using Instagram, Camille hunts down a Manhattan skateboard park where other female skaterboarders hang out. The multi-racial street-savvy ladies readily welcome her in. Turns out she has enough skills both on her skateboard and socially to click with her newfound friends, such as brash smart-mouth Kurt (Nina Moran) and Janay (Dede Lovelace), who invites her to stay with her and her understanding father. Camille is clearly desperate for sisterly companionship and counsel, including the fact that using tampons won’t endanger your health.
But wouldn’t you know, boys come into the picture soon enough, both as antagonists who physically resent sharing their skateboarding space with the opposite sex and occasionally as predators who thoughtlessly try to take advantage of the girls. Trouble soon follows when Camille becomes attracted to fellow skateboarder and budding photographer Devon (Jaden Smith, son of Will, whose star power is wisely kept on low as to not take away from his less-experienced co-stars). After learning that Devon and Janay have a shared past that ended badly, Camille alienates herself from her friends and crashes in a cramped apartment with Devon and his porn-watching male pals. Eventually, she sees the light and the film ends on a conciliatory high note – the sight of young women rolling along while jumping and spinning on their skateboards through magic-hour city traffic as if they had wings on their feet.
Mosellle isn’t breaking that much new ground here. But what is fresh and different is that she never judges, punishes or, most importantly, exploits her character’s behavior, whether they are smoking grass, breaking the rules, being confrontational or experimenting with sex in public. And she subtly shows through the course of the movie how Camille has grown wiser and more sophisticated in the way she views the world and herself, especially when she observes, “A lot of the good skaters don’t think. Women overthink too much.” I, for one, too often resemble that remark.