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Skate Kitchen

Other // R // November 20, 2018
List Price: $19.29 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 10, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The set-up for Crystal Moselle's Skate Kitchen -- the existence of the film itself, not the story in it -- could've happened to anyone. Moselle, who made her mark with the documentary The Wolfpack three years ago, ran into the real all-girl Skate Kitchen crew on the New York subway and found the young women so fascinating that she approached them with the hope of doing a project together. However, it's hard to imagine the results turning out any better than Moselle's finished film, a fictionalized drama that casts the real skateboard crew in a story written by Moselle, Aslihan Unaldi, and Jennifer Silverman. Not only do the young women, all first-time performers, carry the movie with an unforced ease and naturalism, but Moselle captures the vital essence of what makes their skating so important, not to mention frank depictions of female friendship, of trying to find your people and your place, and the fleeting exhilaration of the freedom of youth.

For Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), the videos that NYC skate crew The Skate Kitchen post to Instagram are like an encapsulation of her dreams. Despite a gnarly and alarmingly bloody boarding accident that prompted her nervous mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to ban her from skateboarding, Camille takes the subway out to the city and connects with the girls: Janay (Dede Lovelace), Kurt (Nina Moran), Indigo (Ajani Russell), Ruby (Kabrina Adams), and they quickly bond, not just over skating, but also everything from periods to potential boyfriends. When Camille's mother finds out that Camille is still skating despite her ban, Camille leaves home and moves in with Janay and her father, but the presence of a young man, Devon (Jaden Smith) threatens to break apart all of the newly-formed bonds that Camille treasures so much.

Skateboarding has always had a rebellious aspect to it, even as it moved onto the fringes of mainstream sports, and Moselle captures that renegade energy. More importantly, though, she codes skateboarding as an act of emotional expression. When riding is a way for Camille to feel free, there is a serenity to it, the smooth roll of the board and the wind in Camille's hair accentuated by the smooth vibe of electronic synth. Other times, there's that electricity of breaking the rules, a nervous-but-exhilarated vibe that comes with a harmless but deeply satisfying transgression of what might objectively be considered a social norm. Later, as the film shifts into darker dramatic territory, there is an anger to the riding that comes through in missteps, broken boards, and personal injuries.

That skateboarding energy dovetails perfectly with the anything-goes mentality of being young. The best moments of Skate Kitchen capture that butterflies-in-the-stomach, slightly surreal feeling of being out on a late-night adventure with a mixture of friends you know and don't know, hurrying to catch up to whatever's around the corner (with Moselle pointedly setting one of these sequences to Khalid's "Young, Dumb & Broke"). There is also the sincere-but-silly introspection of 2am bedroom conversations, the frustration of parents that mean well but don't understand, and that gradual shift of feeling like a newcomer or an outsider to being part of a group. So much of the joy of watching Skate Kitchen is feeling that sense memory of one's own teenage years, which Moselle and her talented performers recreate with impressive precision.

It's especially incredible to think that The Skate Kitchen, playing versions of themselves, are all first-time actors, because the movie has a verisimilitude, thanks to Moselle, that makes it feel like a documentary. She finds the girls' natural humor and sensibilities, especially Moran as Kurt, whose blunt sarcasm and sophomoric glee often steal the show. Her camera dips and glides, noting random bruises, interesting fashion choices, glimpses of each girl's personally customized skateboard. Their conversations crackle with authenticity, contrasting their rough-and-tumble, anti-authority skate attitude with the intimacy of hardcore girl talk. Smith, one of the film's few professional actors, fits right into the vibe of the film, and the skill of the cast carries the film even when the plot drags a touch here and there. As a drama, Skate Kitchen can be conventional, even if seeing these tropes with young women is already a bit different, but as filmmaking, it's essential, effortlessly blending the real and unreal into a perfect encapsulation of what it feels like to have found your people, with your whole future ahead of you.

The Blu-ray
Skate Kitchen arrives on Blu-ray with disappointing new artwork. Instagram is an integral piece of the movie and the real Skate Kitchen's presence in pop culture, and the film's two theatrical posters have a look that seems to capture that sensibility through filter-like color schemes...not to mention, both posters show the cast members' faces. The home video art is conceptually adequate -- the skaters soaring above the city skyline, an idea that might've been taken from a part of the film -- but the images and colors chosen leave something to be desired, slightly downplaying the fact that the film is about an all-female skate crew. The second poster, featuring the banana (brought up in the movie, and again, relevant to the real Skate Kitchen crew), is used as the header image on the reverse of the sleeve, but would've been better for the front. The one-disc release comes in a Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Although the packaging states 1.85:1, Skate Kitchen is offered in an excellent 1.78:1 1080p AVC widescreen transfer and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, both of which are excellent. The film's color palette reflects that aforementioned Instagram look, with colors that look crisp and natural but sometimes have a slightly altered look (intentionally) during sunset or low light. The image, while shot digitally, has a grainy and more film-like appearance rather than the razor sharpness of digital. The film features a serene electronic score that envelops the viewer on the audio track, bringing them into that headspace of teenage freedom. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and other pop songs on the soundtrack sound especially nice. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
A trio of video extras are included. "Behind-the-Scenes: Chinatown Stunt Shoot" (3:39) and "Behind-the-Scenes: Skate Park Shoot" (3:42) have pretty self-explanatory titles, and are brief fly-on-the-wall looks at the making of two skate sequences in the movie, which are mostly fun for the glimpses of the cast goofing around between takes or seeing how Moselle directs the action.

The third is a collection of deleted scenes (11:04), including an impromptu bit of dancing and peeing on the subway, a scene where the girls get ticketed for smoking weed, a visit to a record store, banter with a convenience store owner, and a general skating montage set to music. Nothing essential, but fans of the finished film should enjoy these little tidbits, which could just as easily be envisioned as glimpses of post-movie Skate Kitchen life.

The disc wraps up with a photo gallery. Trailers for Support the Girls, Bad Reputation, RBG, Dust 2 Glory, and promos for The Charity Network and axsTV play before the main menu and are accessible under the special features menu as "Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment," but no theatrical trailer for Skate Kitchen has been included.

It's a shame Moselle and the Skate Kitchen were unavailable or not asked to do an audio commentary, which would really complete this package.

Skate Kitchen's best qualities are seen rather than explained. Describing the story could make the movie sound conventional, but it's actually something refreshingly current, blending true-to-life elements and outstanding filmmaking into an emotionally satisfying ride. I wish magnolia's Blu-ray had one more extra and a better cover, but neither of those things will stop this one from being highly recommended.

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