There’s a moment in Crystal Moselle’s 2018 Movie ‘Skate Kitchen’ where the titular posse pass a young girl on their skateboards as they roam through New York City. The girl turns and gawks at the group, whilst her mother drags her in the opposite direction. It’s easy to relate to the young girl as we’re thrust into the New York City skateboarding subculture, just as we relate to protagonist Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who struggles with her identity throughout the movie.
The film opens with Camille suffering a particularly nasty injury whilst skating in her local Long Island area. Despite being in pain she attempts to skate home, still wearing hospital clothing, which grants us an immediate insight into the importance of skateboarding to her identity. When her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) bans her from skating, it’s clear she’s going to ignore her. Their relationship is turbulent – her mother often speaks to her in Spanish, but Camille only responds in English. Such is the disconnection between them, her mother stumbles through asking if she’s alright after a follow up hospital visit.
Where Camille does find a connection, however, is with the all-female ‘Skate Kitchen’ in New York City. Though her introduction is awkward, she decides to meet with them because of a post on the group’s instagram and establishes a rapport through her skateboarding. Still, we can sense her discomfort as the squad skate off through the city traffic and she is left behind. Director Crystal Moselle is excellent at capturing mood and perspective through moments like this, using locations, street signs, street art and backgrounds to great effect. As the group of friends chill and smoke they cling to a fence which segregates their decaying skate park from the affluent city in the distance.
As Camille’s relationship with her mother crumbles, she moves in with Janay (Ardelia Lovelace) and her family. She grows closer to her and the group and, more comfortable with her sense of self, adopting lingo used by the group’s brash leader Kurt (Nina Moran). The film is at its strongest when discussing teenage insecurities and sexuality. The group also explore concerns about the insidious aspect to male skaters they encounter which serves to foreshadow a close call later in the film. It’s a welcome change to see women with agency in a culture which is often portrayed as predominantly masculine. The dialogue feels natural, rarely indulging heavily in exposition, instead only opting to do so when it’s earned.
However, when her newfound friendships threaten to come off the rails, Camille is forced to confront old wounds. Her past insecurities seep into the new identity she’s established – testing whether it can survive without her friends and without the security of skateboarding. ‘Skate Kitchen’ demonstrates the strength an individual can gain through friendship. It encourages us to share our passions, to reach out and form bonds, as Camille does, gaining confidence as an individual – and as part of a team.