' ' Cinema Romantico: Skate Kitchen

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Skate Kitchen

As “Skate Kitchen” opens, teenage Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is skateboarding in her Long Island neighborhood, alone. As “Skate Kitchen” closes, Camille is skateboarding through the streets of New York City, but in the company of several new friends, their bond having been tested but reaffirmed. It’s an ancient arc, yet director Crystal Moselle lends vitality by blending fiction with docudrama (most of the teenagers here, including Vinberg, are playing versions of themselves), investing each decision Camille makes with the sensation of impulse rather than storytelling necessity. A scene outside some faceless, nameless corporate building where Camille talks a fed-up security guard into giving back her skateboard by saying she just wants to make peace and go home really feels, for a moment, as if she’s being earnest. Then, upon having her board returned, when she pulls a trick right in front of the incredulous guard anyway, it feels totally spontaneous, not some dramatic hurdle to cross but a real time throwing caution to the wind.

Through and through, “Skate Kitchen” is a hangout movie, where we spend most of our time in the company of Camille and her skateboarding clique as they shit-talk each other and skate, skate and shit-talk each other. That has typically been the province of males, like the recently reviewed “Summer of 84”, though there the characters were rarely given space to actually, you know, hang out whereas despite the frequent close confines of Moselle’s camera, she provides plenty of downtime, where often aimless chit-chat suddenly bursts into straightforward profundity, lending credibility to how Camille’s friendships can suddenly spiral on a dime. She enters this fold after a no more skateboarding ultimatum issued by her Mom (Elizabeth Rodriguez), with whom Camille butts heads throughout, a story genesis that could have been contrived if not for how Rodriguez deftly emotes a consistent panic born from knowing she’s losing control of her daughter as well as Camille’s moving monologue to Janay (Adrelia Lovelace).

The monologue is the heart of the film, explaining Camille’s plight, living with her father after her parents’ divorce because she could not stand her mother, only to move in with her mother when she realized her upbringing required a woman’s touch, alienating her father, forever emotionally stranded between two points. Indeed, even as she makes friends with her roving female gang, Camille is often off to the side and back of center in frames, staying out of group photos intended for Instagram until she is physically pulled in. She remains unsure as she works to open herself up, and so when she eventually finds herself drawn to Devon (Jaden Smith), the ex of Janay, she can’t help but be drawn into his orbit too. It evokes “Everybody Wants Some!!”, by Linklater, master of the hangout movie, in so much as she is sort of moving from one subculture to the next. If the guys accept her, the social dynamic nevertheless proves untenable, engendering an absolution with Camille’s original crew that feels wholly believable in how youth allows grudges to just be shaken right off.

If she and Devon can’t last, him taking pictures and filming videos of Camille skateboarding elicits the impression of him seeing through to her core, never more than a moment where they do something like an ersatz photo shoot in the shadow of The Empire State Building. Moselle shoots scene this looking up, as if from Devon’s vantage point, where it is just Camille, her skateboard and 102 stories of impeccable Art Deco. In the endless hustle of the city, which these characters frequently roam through, where the ground-level aesthetic lends a guerilla vibe, this moment of just them in the shadow of a massive tourist attraction, feels intimate, stolen, not unlike, you suddenly realize, every time they step on a skateboard.

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