Skate Kitchen sees Crystal Moselle jump to her narrative feature debut and she does so quite effectively as she crafts a coming of age story set inside a female skate crew in NYC.
Inspired by a real life crew, Skate Kitchen, Moselle crafts a narrative feature that feels authentic to the scene and the shit these girls have to put up with. Our lead is Camille, an 18 year old from Long Island who tracks down the Skate Kitchen crew in NYC one day and slowly falls into their crew. As she slowly builds a bond with these girls, Camille begins to grow herself, exposed and engaging with pieces of life she never had in her more sheltered upbringing. First comes friendship, then comes romance, and the potential drama that can cause along the way.
When Skate Kitchen excels is when it is a hang movie with this group of girls. The chemistry, obviously, is great with one another and I could sit there and watch them talk about girl stuff all day. This is where the film feels the most authentic and is at its most enjoyable. The conversations these girls are having are unlike any we usually get in movies, just matter of fact and honest about their teenage experience, it felt so refreshing.
The film doesn’t work quite as well as it does in the first half or so of the film, once it starts falling into a more plotty path for Camille. It’s a tad tired, but the skating scene itself keeps things interesting. As do the plethora of interesting characters and people Moselle rounds up for these scenes, constantly filling the film with some excellent skating and photography of it. She doesn’t try to ape the skate video scene with her camera, instead just finding beautiful shots wherever she can, capturing the scope of the skaters more than individual moments. Her camera in general keeps the film looking quite beautiful, whether people are skating or not.
The casts energy keeps you engaged throughout the film, starting with Rachelle Vinberg as Camille. Vinberg plays the quiet and introverted Camille quite well, while coming alive in the skating bits which she can more than easily handle. Camille’s arc might be a bit clichéd, but Vinberg makes her feel authentic along that journey, feeling like someone who is a bit shell shocked at times as she falls deeper into the scene. Dede Lovelace is my standout of the crew, as she just comes alive in the group hang scenes. She feels as into those conversations as anyone and watching her face react to those around her is a joy. Nina Moran feels the most built character in the film, but she is really great as the shit talking lesbian of the group. Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams, Jules Lorenzo and Brenn Lorenzo round out the crew, and while on more of the peripheral, each of them still find more than a couple of moments to shine.
I think Moselle and her team deserve a little more of a shout out here, as she put together a great team and executed a beautiful movie across the skate parks of NYC. The soundtrack and music in the film also work wonderfully, fueling the emotion and drama up on the screen, and I will be sure to be running that Spotify playlist a time or two in the coming weeks. Moselle finds a nice balance between the slice of life, the contemplative thoughts and conversations and a through line of plot, I just wish the latter has been a bit more original and surprising. But, then again, this might just be me hung up on the film’s earlier portions which were so great at just hanging out with these girls.
Skate Kitchen is an easy watch and a create narrative debut from Moselle. She gets the most out of her young actors and proves here filmmaking chops along the way. Skate Kitchen, at its highest bits, has some of the best portrayals of the teenage female friendship and experience, I wish we got even more of it.