“Skate or die, bitch”: Exploring the world of “Skate Kitchen”
How 2018’s best coming-of-age film helped some conquer loneliness and how others found an identity
I have a truth about myself that has many people looking at me funny when I admit it: high school was the happiest four years of my life — so far. Really. During those awkward, yet exciting four years, I absolutely had a blast. One of the reasons I adored my time in high school was finding others with similar interests — real interests and not the basic “Yeah, we all like sports” — and bonding over these interests. There were others interested in movies, folklore and history — topics that gripped me and could spruce a 3 hour conversation. Spending most of my day with my friends, albeit in a large school, was a thrill. Seriously.
When watching Skate Kitchen — the new film from writer and director Crystal Moselle — these feelings about high school rushed back into my head, which I appreciated. But, Skate Kitchen is much more than a nostalgia trip; the coming-of-age film opens doors to new points-of-view during a time of my life I cherish fondly. Despite these new windows, Skate Kitchen’s story and its characters boil down to a truth realized by most, if not all, young adults: learning who you are (identity, interests, personality) is something that has to come within yourself and not by others, despite the influences.
I was absolutely floored with Skate Kitchen’s story: it was emotionally moving and brutally honest, yet possessed an air of hopefulness most young adults believe in. For me, the film is everything I look for in a successful coming-of-age story. Skate Kitchen knocks everything out of the park — or, if I am to stick with the skating theme, the film nails a 3 Caberiall kick-flip.
Skate Kitchen follows 18 year-old Camille (played by Rachelle Vinberg) and her desire to skate. She befriends an all female skate crew known as “Skate Kitchen”. Life for Camille is not great at home. Her and her mother do not get along. To combat being miserable at home, Camille spends more and more of her time with her “Skate Kitchen” friends. She begins to fit in with the others when life starts to throw curve-balls: family, boys, a talent and desire to just skate.
Directed and co-written by Crystal Moselle, this is her first narrative feature film. (She most notably directed the documentary The Wolfpack). The most astonishing — and brilliant — aspect of Skate Kitchen is the attention to authenticity and detail. Prior to shooting the film, Moselle spent most of her time surrounded by skate culture and the actual “Skate Kitchen” crew. Moselle first saw the group on a train in New York City. The filmmaker thought their look was interesting and began eavesdropping on their conversation. Earning their trust was hard, Moselle noted, but a bond began and a film was born.
Who is “Skate Kitchen”? They are the bad-ass group of females on screen. Besides Jaden Smith, the characters we follow are played by the same people Moselle hung around before filming. With Moselle using most of the actual skating crew, the on-screen chemistry is strong and the interactions feel genuine. When the crew celebrate a joyful high (I mean going through something positive, though there is plenty of getting “high” in the film), their happiness oozes on-screen and off. A warm tinge is felt inside myself watching those scenes. The same can be said for when things go awry: their fights feel as if the world is ending. (To a teenager, losing friends or battling through loneliness is often described as the “end of the world”).
Moselle expertly brings this group of non-actors together and aids them to deliver strong, memorable performances. Each character has a quirk or trait that allows them to have an arc in the film. These are not faceless characters doing faceless things; these are actual people interacting with one another and each action on-screen potentially has a positive or negative consequence.
Though Skate Kitchen follows a crew of young females, the story focuses on Camille and her life. Her arc is immensely powerful and has some incredibly important moments shared by young adults everywhere. Her parents are divorced, and, when we begin following her story, she is living with her mother. The two do not get along, so Camille uses skateboarding as a way to escape home. Camille has a passion for skating, a world that challenges and excites her. Watching Camille skate is thrilling. The skating world is her happy place and seeing her relaxed and enjoying herself — as opposed to the awkward, tense scenes at home — brings joy as I watch the story progress.
Seeing her grow in the skating world is important, too. She navigates these already existing relationships (Camille is new to the “Skate Kitchen” group, who already all know each other) with caution. She has to learn who to trust, befriend and, most importantly, look out for herself. These issues are largely dealt from within. She has to make the social mistakes to learn, which she is happy to commit as Camille desperately wants a part of the happiness the skating world brings.
These social lessons must be realized because Camille thrusts herself onto these situations. One can not learn watching from the sidelines. Though lonely, Camille is quiet but not shy. She strives to be a part of the group and is open to trying new experiences to do so. Skate Kitchen expertly explores these different relationships between friends, family and love interests and how Camille’s understanding of each changes. We see her grow from a quiet, sort-of close minded (she believes, at first, tampons kill people) teenager to someone comfortable in her own skin.
Skate Kitchen also explores identity, though I think the film could have went deeper. Who is Camille? Is she a skater, who will spend her life exploring the streets? Is she someone who will become part of the workforce, giving up her life of skating? The film also discusses: does she relate to boys or girls more? Camille explains to one of her friends that, growing up, she was very tom-boyish. In an emotionally re-telling, Camille describes punching her chest throughout puberty so she would not “grow breasts”. As she yearns to challenge herself and develop as a skater, she seems more comfortable hanging with the male skaters. This causes friction with her female friends — some who have had history with the male skaters. Camille is caught in-between these male vs. female dynamics both internally and externally.
How Skate Kitchen addresses these realizations is impressive. Moselle wonderfully captures the rush of skating, though at times the action scenes are nauseating. She beautifully brings out each person’s unique personality. But Moselle’s skill of writing — which she co-wrote with Jennifer Silverman and Ashlihan Unaldi — is completely the story arcs with a satisfying ending, yet leaving room for discussion and growth. No, not a sequel, but a sense that the problems brought up in this film do not end when the film is completed. These characters are humans are will continue to go through changes and struggles throughout their life. Most importantly, though, they have each other as emotional rocks.
They always have their skating.