Skate Kitchen (Moselle, 2018)

I felt some kinship with the lead character of Skate Kitchen. For a while, anyway. Making her introverted and socially awkward was a good decision on the creative team’s part, because it colors the story differently. It’s more tentative and fragile, because Camille’s acceptance into the skater collective is not immediate. She is always depicted as still physically separated from them in some way, effectively visualizing her naivety and unhappiness even after she has been initiated into the fold. Though she skateboards, she is still not “free.” She is still living with an overly-protective mother who frets about her safety. She is still new to the experience of adolescence in its fullest sense: tampons, drugs, sex, vicarious living. The Skate Kitchen collective is her entrance into this strange new world, but she also must learn how to navigate its complexities. She’s still not quite there yet.

The latter part of the film documents Camille’s stumbles and errors of judgment. They are clearly necessary for her growth, for grow she must. My admiration for the film started to waver when I realized it was taking the path most traveled: a love interest that necessitates betraying Camille’s closest Skate Kitchen compatriot, and an overstepping of boundaries that, even for Camille, seems somewhat out of sync with her personality. It is true that people unused to amassing social capital tend to go overboard when they finally achieve it, but the way Camille’s trajectory is mapped here feels insincere. I had grown to really like her, and to feel for her, and then suddenly she seems to become a different person. Someone who does not seem naïve as much as she loves an anarchic impulse to sow discord. I left the film not really knowing who Camille was, and whether Rachelle Vinberg knew, either.

Keeping the slice-of-life aspect without injecting artificial drama would have suited this tale better. Or, if drama had to stay, it needn’t have revolved around a tired heterosexual love triangle. What if Camille was a queer figure after all, and fell in love with someone from Skate Kitchen? I wouldn’t have minded that. Her musing about being a tomboy as a girl, and the complicated feelings arising from needing to be with a parent of the same gender, could have been worked into this in a way that would’ve been insightful. Heck, any insight into Camille’s relationship with her mother would have worked better than what is depicted here.

In short, like executing a gravity-defying trick, you can’t overthink things. You’re either daring and spontaneous in the moment, executing it with all the glory in the world, or you overthink it and take a fall. This film, unfortunately, doesn’t land the trick. Nor does it fall too hard, though. It must settle for a middling compromise, and for a debut fictional feature, that’s not all bad. I will watch Crystal Moselle take another stab at it, with full confidence that the next trick will be fantastic.