Gritty and real, with a strong message about the importance of female friendship, Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen often feels more like a documentary than a scripted drama. That’s not surprising, given Moselle’s experience as a documentarian (The Wolfpack) and the fact that she cast real-life New York skateboarders to play fictionalized versions of themselves. But the film was actually carefully crafted, making its authenticity all the more impressive.
Founding Skate Kitchen member Rachelle Vinberg stars as Camille, a quiet Long Island teen who’s passionate about skateboarding. Her mother, Renata (Elizabeth Rodriguez), wants Camille to give it up after an injury. But Camille can’t stop doing the one thing that drives her, so she ventures into Manhattan and falls in with a diverse, rowdy group of girls that includes boisterous Kurt (Nina Moran), sophisticated Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), tough Indigo (Ajani Russell), and more.
Camille couldn’t be happier; she’s found her people. Even a big rift with her mom can’t get in the way of her joy in spending the hot summer days and nights riding around New York City with her crew. Then friendship drama rears its ugly head — partly thanks to Camille’s growing connection with Devon (Jaden Smith), who has a complicated history with Janay. No one in Skate Kitchen is a “mean girl,” but there are some lines they just don’t cross; could Camille end up left out in the cold?
Moselle met the Skate Kitchen collective on the subway and was hooked by their story; they did a short film together that ended up leading to the idea to make a dramatic feature. While Moselle and her cast of (relative) newcomers workshopped ideas and improvised scenarios for the movie, the finished film was conscientiously scripted and acted. And it pays off: Yes, the skateboarding scenes are notable, but it’s the cast’s authentic, verite-style interactions and relationships that really make Skate Kitchen — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: 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. Read full review.
Nell Minow: Moselle’s style of filmmaking is so unobtrusive we almost forget Skate Kitchen is a movie and believe we are in the skate park, zooming up the ramps, executing tricky spins, and getting up after being knocked down. A feature film only due to the lightest narrative touch, the film has an intimate, documentary feel that pulls us into the world of these girls, sometimes treacherous, but thrilling in the possibilities of independence, freedom, and friendship.
Marilyn Ferdinand: In director Crystal Moselle’s 2016 short That One Day, she looked at the evolution of female friendship through the lens of the real-life skateboard crew, The Skate Kitchen. In her feature film debut, Skate Kitchen, she expands the story to focus on the coming of age of Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), an 18-year-old Latina straining to be free of her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriquez) and her suburban Long Island existence. She finds camaraderie with a streetwise female skateboard crew in New York City, but her efforts to negotiate a new world of sex, drugs, and new relationships prove more challenging than the ollies and railslides she pops with ease. Skate Kitchen ups its game with the inclusion of Jaden Smith in the cast and an effective mix of skateboarding and drama with an unaffected, if somewhat inexpert cast. Skateboarding culture in 2018 will be alien to many viewers, but the timeless story of struggling with the new freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood should resonate with most everyone.
Nikki Baughan: Three years after she explored the nature of brotherly bonds in her award-winning documentary debut The Wolfpack, writer/director Crystal Moselle follows it up with a fictional, but no less truthful, exploration of the power of friendship. Newcomer Rachelle Vinberg puts in a charming central performance as Camille, a cloistered Long Island loner whose passion for skateboarding leads her to track down Manhattan’s skate kitchen collective, where she befriends a group of fellow female teen skateboarders. There are echoes of Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood and Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd in the way in which Moselle captures the joy and strength of female friendships. These women are strong, spunky and colourful, yes, but they are not mere ciphers for a movement. They are open, honest and real; accepting of each other even as they josh, tease and try and outdo one another on the asphalt. That the cast are real life skateboarder kids playing themselves – Jaden Smith and Elizabeth Rodriguez being the only professional actors on screen – allows this genuine warmth to shine through, and performances are augmented by Shabier Kirchner’s cinematography. Shot documentary-style, with lots of hand-held, fluid weaving through city streets and close ups of the girls as they share easy confidences, and complete with a bombastic soundtrack, Skate Kitchen has a palpable, infectious energy that it’s impossible not to get swept up in.
MaryAnn Johanson I love that there are so many teen girls on screen in Crystal Moselle’s glorious Skate Kitchen, and that they’re all so wonderfully unique. The realities of being a teenage girl have been all but ignored by cinema for too long — certainly compared to the almost infinite variety of films about teen boys that already exist and continue to be made — and here comes this movie to effortlessly show that there are in fact many different teen-girl realities, each as different as the girls who live them, around some common ground. (That common ground is also explored with an unusual and very welcome frankness. I cannot recall another movie in which teen girls discuss whether it’s okay to use tampons.) Kitchen may center on just one girl, and her awkward and painful coming-of-age, but the supporting girlfriends around her are all sharply and distinctly drawn, too. None of this should be so rare that it’s a thrill to see them here, but it is.
Anne Brodie: Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen has a hint of Moonlight’s urban pastoral vibe, set in New York’s Lower East Side and Long Island. It offers cinematic and psychological space to breathe and exult in life’s richness. Skaterborder and Instagrammer Camille (Rachelle Vinburg) is trying to put some space between herself and her controlling single mother who bans her from skating when she sustains a “credit card” injury requiring hospital care. What mother doesn’t understand is that lonely Camille has been welcomed into an all-female skateboard club that provides its teenage members with community while enjoying summer vacation. Skate Kitchen has no trouble carving out park space to skateboard in the male-dominated parks with friendly pressure and good will. There’s a sweet, nostalgic unspoken moment captured, those magical, too brief weeks of summer vacation. They explore the big things in young lives, the mysteries of love and sex, tampons versus pads, ice cream, in what feels like the last summer vacation in their lives. But they’re 18 now and it’s time to become adult…bittersweet. I love the film’s breezy intimacy, natural emotion and sense of actually being there, sitting on the subway with raucous pals, skating, eating and being. Skate Kitchen is glorious, the first feature to be adapted from an Instagram feed.
Jennifer Merin Skate Kitchen is the first narrative feature from acclaimed documentary maker Crystal Moselle. Co-scripted by Moselle and based on the real lives of teenage girl skateboarders whom Moselle met while riding the NYC subway, the film centers on the coming of age of Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who’s passionate about skateboarding, curious about sex and struggling to sort our her relationship with her controlling single mom. Vinberg and most of her onscreen posse are members of the actual Skate Kitchen group who are cast to play fictionalized versions of themselves. Although not entirely new, this daring production concept allows Moselle to use her well-honed observational documentary skills to best effect, delivering the story of this unique New York subculture in a beautifully crafted and most engaging film.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Crystal Moselle’s first film The Wolfpack was a fascinating documentary about a group of six sheltered, movie-obsessed brothers in New York City, and Skate Kitchen, her first narrative feature, about another group of adolescents passionately involved in a Manhattan subculture, is equally as riveting. The movie follows lonely suburban 18-year-old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who meets a squad of skateboarder girls during a daytrip to the City’s skateboard parks. The young women (including Vinberg) aren’t playing themselves, but there’s an obvious authenticity to their performances, since they actually are a collective of diverse female skaters Moselle happened to meet on the subway years ago. This is more character study than plot-driven, but there’s an interesting twist when Camille starts to hang with (and fall for) her skateboarding coworker Devin (Jaden Smith, who might be Will Smith’s rich son but who really does know how to shred like street kids). Smith’s performance is quite good, but the movie belongs to the young women of Skate Kitchen, who fiercely defy the status to quo to prove that girls can ollie and flip-kick as well as the guys.
Pam Grady: A teenage Long Island skateboarder (Rachelle Vinberg) finds her tribe when she hooks up with a group of like-minded young women in Manhattan in documentarian Crystal Moselle’s engaging narrative debut. The real-life Skate Kitchen skateboard collective plays fictional versions of themselves in this drama that captures the specific world of skaterboarders, both female and male, while spinning a closely observed tale of a young woman finding herself in the world with not always happy results. Shot as if Skate Kitchen were a documentary, the film often thrills with its closeup views of ollies and other exuberant skate tricks.
Esther Iverem: For someone like me, uninitiated into the world of skateboarding, “Skate Kitchen” is fresh, well-acted and atmospheric. It feels real. So I can only hope that this movie holds up under the scrutiny of aficionados of the sport. I think it might.
Cate Marquis When we hear someone mention skateboarders, we often picture a group of young guys, trying to top each other with bold new gravity-defying tricks. But writer/director Crystal Moselle shows us a crew of skateboarder girls who are every bit as brash and every bit as good as the guys in Skate Kitchen. Moselle found success at Sundance with her documentary The Wolfpack, but this is her first narrative feature. Read full review.
Title: Skate Kitchen
Directors: Crystal Moselle
Release Date: August 10, 2018
Running Time: 100 minutes
Screenwriter: Crystal Moselle
Distribution Company: Magnolia Pictures
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin