Skate Kitchen is a unique, heartwarming coming-of-age story

Skate Kitchen, photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Skate Kitchen, photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures /

Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen is a uniquely vérité coming-of-age tale.

In the opening moments of Skate Kitchen, we see Camille (Rachelle Vinburg) skating through a New York park. She wipes out, ends up in the ER, and spends the ride home scolded by her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) about everything she could risk because of her skateboarding. Her bones, her future, even her motherhood.

Her amplified concerns aside, she means well. But Camille being a rebellious (albeit naive) teenager, finds an all-girl skate collective on Instagram called Skate Kitchen. As Camille grows closer to the skate collective, she becomes more comfortable having found a tribe to call her own.

Of course, there’s some drama that occurs both in and out of the Skate Kitchen collective. What’s interesting is that co-writer/director Crystal Moselle seems to let the cast, of mostly first-time actors, free to wander around whatever space each scene offers, loosely guided by the script written by Moselle, Jen Silverman, and Aslihan Unaldi.

Moselle, whose feature The Wolfpack took home the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2015, approaches Skate Kitchen with the same documentary sensibilities. The actors are a real-life skateboard collective. While they’re not necessarily playing fictional versions of themselves, they’re navigating their way through a fictional story in a world they know intimately.

Skate Kitchen, photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Skate Kitchen, photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures /

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Worth mentioning that Jaden Smith (yes, that Jaden Smith) shows up partway through playing Devon, a rival skateboarder who aspires to be a photographer. Despite the film’s neo-vérité style, Smith is able to blend his performance into Moselle’s very distinct canvas.

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It’s impossible to not compare Moselle’s craftsmanship to Larry Clark’s Kids. Set against the backdrop of an unremarkable New York City, the story’s told through an observant lens that just seems hovers around its teenage characters while the white noise of the city hums constantly in the background.

Granted, the differences more-or-less end there. Whereas Kids unflinchingly exposed an unseen subculture, Skate Kitchen uses the world of underground skateboarding to tell a story that’s at once both fresh and relatably familiar.

Despite (or maybe because of) Moselle’s almost counterintuitive approach to directing, Skate Kitchen proves to be a very affecting look at the doldrums and drama of the lives of teenagers. The pseudo-documentary style affords a certain warts-and-all sentimentality to the way these characters and their friendships come across on-screen.

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Even though it takes place in a largely unfamiliar world, Skate Kitchen is a sincere, deeply moving coming-of-age story told in a unique and compelling way.

Skate Kitchen is out in theaters this weekend. Click here to get tickets.