HomeMoviesSkate Kitchen: Sisterhood of the Traveling Half-Pipe

Skate Kitchen: Sisterhood of the Traveling Half-Pipe

Skate Kitchen
Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Summer is in its final days, but you wouldn’t know it from the temperature in New York City. The air is still thick and humid, oppressive in a way that saps your energy and immediately drenches your clothes in sweat. It’s in that weather that writer-director Crystal Moselle made her new film, Skate Kitchen.

Filmed over a mere 37 days in the middle of a New York City summer, it follows a group of young people made up of the real-life members of the skating collective that gives the film its title. Actually, it follows Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a Long Island girl who discovers The Skate Kitchen on Instagram and travels to the city to find them. At first glance, Moselle’s film might seem a little too directionless. Why are we following these wild, hilarious girls as they ride through the city? But as the film goes on, it becomes clear that spending time with them–and the effect it has on Camille–is exactly the point.

This isn’t Moselle’s first foray into the world of NYC skater girls (she previously made a short called That One Day for the high-end fashion label, Miu Miu, with the same cast), but this is her first narrative feature. Her first film was 2015’s The Wolfpack, a documentary that followed a group of young brothers who became film fanatics because their parents confined them to their apartment for most of their childhoods. While that work wouldn’t seem like valuable training for Skate Kitchen, Moselle shows the same skill and sensitivity portraying her characters here as she did capturing the Angulo brothers’ real lives.

Despite not being professional actors, the young people here are pretty convincing—likely because they’re mostly playing themselves. Of the supporting cast, Kabrina Adams (who records the group’s shenanigans in real life) is mysterious and watchable in front of the camera even when she’s standing behind her own. The standout, though, is Nina Moran as Kurt. Kurt is a familiar skater type–anarchic, clever and with so much BDE that the boys reflexively lash out–but in the body of a woman.

With Kurt and the others, there’s something thrilling and almost subversive in seeing these girls (many of them as obsessed with make-up and boys as any other group of young girls) walk through their male-dominated spaces with such confidence precisely because they face it together.

Still, as good as the supporting cast is, Vinberg carries the film. After spending her early life in her father’s care and the last few years with a mother who’d rather she obsess over make-up than skating, Camille is starved for female companionship. Though we can feel the limits of Vinberg’s acting skill in the scene where she reveals that parental trauma, the way she conveys Camille’s loneliness is almost visceral. We feel her yearning as she scrolls through the Skate Kitchen’s Instagram and then journeys into the city to their favorite skate park to meet them. It’s satisfying, then, when the girls accept her immediately, for no other reason than she’s just as good on a board as they are.

Like That One Day before it, skating culture is just the setting, the real subject is female friendship. When Camille leaves home after her mother slaps her in the face, Janay (Ardelia Lovelace, possibly the strongest dramatic actress of the supporting cast) lets her move in. When Ajani (Ajani Russell) relates what seems to be her date rape, the girls lament how awful men can be. That moment is especially jarring. Ajani is shockingly casual in her telling of what happened and the girls’ anger is similarly laid back. It would be easy to read that moment as bad acting or even a dangerous dismissal of what should be a major trauma, but it ties in perfectly to Moselle’s point. The girls easily navigate their tragedies because they have the group to support them through it—which is why it’s so upsetting when Camille risks damaging that connection.

The only professional actor in the cast (or at least the most experienced) is Jaden Smith as Devon, the boy who threatens to alienate Camille from the female companionship she so desperately needs. Beautiful and quiet, Devon is exactly the kind of moody skater boy engineered to break young girls’ hearts.

He and Janay have a rocky past and despite knowing that she and the other girls would see it as a betrayal, Camille can’t help herself. Laidback as the film has been up to that point, it suddenly becomes like watching a horror film. It’s a testament to both Vinberg’s acting and Moselle’s writing that the threat of Camille’s betrayal is so upsetting.

There’s a moment in the middle of Skate Kitchen when the titular girls travel to the upper east side to try out a new, more difficult terrain. As they roll out of the subway toward their destination, a little girl in a pretty white dress who probably grew up in an economic class the skaters can’t even imagine stares after them. Simply at a glance, that little girl knows just how cool they are and it’s the same for the audience. The view Moselle gives us of this subculture is intimate and occasionally a little strange, but every second is captivating. When the film ends, it’s easy to understand why Camille is so afraid of losing it.

Rating: 9/10

Skate Kitchen is now playing in select theaters nationwide.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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