The world of skateboarding, like most spaces typically dominated by male energy, has never been overly accommodating to young women. Even for female prodigies in the field, there are always men waiting somewhere nearby to condescendingly undermine their abilities. It is high time for a skateboarding movie to come along that could pass the Bechdel test, shattering cinema’s perception of one of society’s most rigid boys’ clubs. The narrative feature debut of skilled documentarian Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack) does just that. Skate Kitchen is a coming of age film that at once feels both refreshingly imaginative and utterly timeless, celebrating the bonds of sisterhood and the freedom of defiance through the lens of extreme sports.
Shy, Long Island teen Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is searching for a community to plug into when she stumbles across Instagram videos of a group of female skateboarders in NYC going by the name of ‘Skate Kitchen.’ Although she’s promised her overprotective mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) that she’s sworn off skating for good after an excruciating accident, Camille can’t help but fantasize about joining this gang of fearless teen girls who share her life’s passion. It isn’t long before she is taking the train into the city for the sake of camaraderie and gnarly kickflips.
For our heroines, skateboarding is much more than summertime hobby; it’s their sole avenue for self-exploration. In the process of playing off each other’s abilities, they are taught how to interact with the world around them. Moselle demonstrates this asphalt salvation, as tone and aesthetic are balanced through lengthy, dreamy takes of skating trick sequences, all magically draped in an entrancing golden hour haze. The intuitive script (co-written by Moselle with Jen Silverman and Aslihan Unaldi) couples the action with lovely and revealing conversational moments, sprinkling in the sort of seemingly innocuous exchanges of information that feels so astonishingly pressing to teenagers. As astute as Camille is, there’s a youthful immaturity she developed in her social isolation, which often must be alleviated by her new friends through humorous lessons in burgeoning adulthood.
While it nearly flawlessly subverts many conventions of its genre, Skate Kitchen is snagged by a pitfall that has long plagued films about female friendships: it asserts that no matter how strong their bond is, it can easily be threatened by a fight over a cute guy. Camille quickly falls for a sk8er boi (Jaden Smith) who, of course, turns out to be an old flame of her new friend Janay (Dede Lovelace). It’s a clichéd subplot, and one that works to undermine the integrity of an otherwise thoughtful narrative. Thankfully, it is mainly used as a jumping off point for contrasting the way men and women are valued in this all but immutable ecosystem.
With this testament to female empowerment, Moselle gracefully makes the transition from documentary to fiction, using her eye for minutiae to flesh out detailed, autonomous characters. Capping off a summer that gave audiences both Eighth Grade and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Skate Kitchen continues the thread of films giving teen girls a vibrant and authentic voice. The result is a stimulating ride that is sure to please young women who spend their days at the skatepark and encourage others to give it a shot.