If a breeze blowing through New York City decided to make a film, it would be Skate Kitchen. Nearly every moment here, of camerawork or character play, is wistfully, blissfully fluid. Everyone seems lifted off the ground as he or she moves. Crystal Moselle’s skateboarding drama, an indie hit born of a woman director (one previous feature, The Wolfpack) and midwifed by Sundance (workshop and festival), is all or nearly all about the girl rollers of the title’s truth-based NYC collective.
There is a puffball of a dramatic “plot”: a lightly anguished love triangle involving a black skater (Ardelia Lovelace), a black skater-photographer (Jaden Smith, son of Will) and the film’s main white girl, a lissom, specs-wearing semi-loner, Khatera (Rachelle Vinberg). She skates the light-long day while lying to her Latina mum that she’s at the library.
The skate park scenes, and the improvised stunts and stints on city streets, have an irresistible lyricism. The camera whirls, swoops and curves, snatching split-second intercuts of kick-flips in close-up. In other scenes it sits by — wry, observing, empathetic — as the girls shake off the dust in long jags of gossip, sex banter or skating shoptalk. Once, boys present, a sex party seems to be starting. (The film keeps reminding us of Larry Clark’s Kids. To Kids’ disadvantage.)
For most of the movie, you believe that nothing matters to these humans more than racing and curvetting along concrete or tarmac on mini-surfboards. At worst, this obsession is disciplined idiocy. At best, it’s a kind of self-authentication by virtuosity: never mind the meaninglessness to others, feel the meaning to yourself. Through this “coming out”, the film suggests, Khatera learns the more important comings out. Independence from her mum, without repudiation of that mum, who means well. Coping with love, even at those times when it doesn’t seem to want to cope with you.
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