I love the way Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen begins. We see the main character, Camille, at a skate park. She seems uncomfortable, uncertain, nervous. Although obviously talented, she injures herself performing a difficult trick. With blood pouring down her leg, Camille, more angry than embarrassed, storms off. We hear a clueless boy speculate that she just got her period. Later, we see the aftermath of her injury as she receives stitches and gingerly walks home in a pair of loaned surgical scrubs. After getting the stitches removed, Camille’s mother makes her promise never to skate again. But Camille loves it too much to give it up. We see her returning again and again to clips and pictures of girls just like her, skating and having fun. I was drawn into Camille’s life as I watched her laugh and obsess over skate videos and Instagram pictures.
Soon after, Camille rides the train to New York City for an all-female skate meet-up. After getting knocked down and mistreated by some unwelcoming male skaters, Camille eventually meets a small group of women. Camille, quiet and reserved but talented, quickly impresses the group. They hang out most of the day, skating through the streets. Camille soon begins spending all of her free time with her newfound friends, lying to her mother, sneaking out, and skating in New York City. The story expands from there, taking the viewer on Camille’s journey as she navigates her way through the big city.
Skate Kitchen feels a bit like a mashup of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) and Stacy Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001). It is an expansion upon Moselle’s 2016 short “That One Day.” Moselle’s talent shines in finding a way for the film to feel genuine and of the moment. In making Skate Kitchen, Moselle drew heavily upon the experiences gained from her previous film, the documentary The Wolfpack, resulting in Skate Kitchen having a similar surreal yet somehow still true-to-life feel. It helps that Skate Kitchen’s cast is a real female NYC skate crew.
My complaint is that Camille seems to be the least interesting of her new friends. While we sense an internal strength, her lack of characterization brings to mind the multitude of film and book characters left deliberately vague to allow them to serve as no more than audience surrogates. While it fits within the film’s established logic that Camille is quiet and withdrawn, only ever coming to life when successfully completing difficult tricks on her skateboard, Skate Kitchen surrounds Camille with more complex and outgoing characters who seem much more capable of engaging the audience. While we do eventually learn more about Camille’s past, I expected her to either come out of her shell more or reveal something much more important about her past that justified her withdrawn attitude. The short film succeeded in some ways that Skate Kitchen does not. Camille’s character went on more of a journey and grew as a person in “That One Day.” Conversely, in Skate Kitchen, Camille rarely ever takes the initiative, only ever having things happen to her. However, Skate Kitchen does manage to overcome some of the bad dialogue and predictable storytelling present in “That One Day.” Additionally, “That One Day” focused more on the toxic masculinity and gatekeeping of male skateboarders among that community. Skate Kitchen downplays that element in favor of telling Camille’s story, much to its credit. Ultimately, Skate Kitchen succeeds at being a fun, meandering look at one girl’s experience growing, maturing, and finding friends in New York City.