I may not know my Ollie from my hand plant, but I know a sick film when I see it. Skate Kitchen is director Crystal Moselle’s winning follow-up to her 2015 documentary, The Wolfpack. Her drama tells the story of teenager Camille (newcomer Rachelle Vinberg) who hooks up with a group of female skaters (skate boarders) from the other side of New York – she’s Long Island, they’re Manhattan. In the process, she breaks from her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez). The film was developed from a short that Moselle made for the Italian fashion house Miu Miu, in which she filmed the skaters. She has a neat habit of moseying up to groups and asking to hang with and then film them. Pretty soon she’s winning plaudits at Sundance and the distributors are all over her. I bet there are groups of people with unusual hobbies travelling the streets of New York waiting for Moselle to spot them.
The only name featured in Skate Kitchen is Jaden Smith, sporting red bleached hair as Devon, a skater and photographer. Devon works in a supermarket where Camille gets a job and rags on her to pose for him. When Camille performs a ‘shove it’ on the roof of a tall building for Devon’s camera my teeth were in my breast pocket.
Jaden Smith might be the star but the star of Skate Kitchen is Nina Moran as Kurt. Kurt is tomboy-ish. Her first line is ‘your mother is a whore’, cursing in front of the camera as she is recorded. She doesn’t have a filter. ‘I like pussy,’ she tells the bespectacled shrinking violet Camille. ‘What do you like?’ People not being so direct, you expect her to answer. Moran fairly lights up the screen, inhaling and blowing out smoke rings.
Camille makes an instant friend in Janay (Ardelia Lovelace) who invites her to stay with her after her mother forbids her for skateboarding. Janay’s dad is cool too. He never complains about them smoking dope and he makes lasagna. However, the friendship is tested after Janay injures herself and is laid up.
The film is about how tight groups united by a common pastime can be good parent substitutes. Even when she is on a board, Camille isn’t harshly judged. However, the group can be a bit too libertarian, as when a female hand wanders towards Camille during a party scene turned, well, orgy.
Camille is a sympathetic heroine. She teaches us early on the meaning of credit carding – you may not want to know. The set pieces are naturalistic. Highlights include her being told at the supermarket to refuse coupons that are out of date and opening her first tampon; she previously imagined one might kill her. However our sympathy is tested when Camille begs for a skateboard back from some security guards and when it is given to her, sticks it to them.
Skate Kitchen is a great film for anybody who has always wanted to belong or felt like taking up a sport with only a modest skill level. It fairly glides along. Moselle is true to her subject without inserting a plot that might swamp it. What she achieves is just as skillful as anything the girls do on their boards.
Skate Kitchen is out in cinemas on 28th September!