Writer-director Crystal Moselle’s first narrative feature about an all-female skateboarding crew begins by following 18-year- old, Long Island skateboarder Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who gets “credit carded”, a skateboarding term for when the edge of the board hits you hard in the groin, at her local skate park. She silently attempts to endure the pain but the blood pouring down her legs betrays her, and she staggers off alone to a cacophony of male hollers. The scene is visually shocking but it is also important in setting the film’s tone.
With Camille we are confronted with the machismo typically attributed to skateboarding; the audience sympathises not just with her physical pain, but with her social isolation – both of which she has to deal with as the female outsider. Banned from skating by her mother (Orange is the New Black’s Elizabeth Rodriguez), Camille travels to New York City where she finds acceptance in the all-female crew Skate Kitchen (composed of the actual, original members of the crew).
The group give her space to explore her identity without embarrassment by discussing issues such as gas-lighting, menstruation and puberty but most importantly, it provides her with other girls to skate with. Together they defend each other from guys who challenge them; such as when a random man on the street asks them, “Hey, can you do an ollie?” and Kurt (Nina Moran) sarcastically responds, “No bro, I’m a poseur, that’s why I have this shit. I thought this was just an accessory. It’s my purse.”
When Camille becomes attracted to Devon (Jaden Smith) an “asshole” from a misogynistic male skateboarding group she is forced to pick between him and Skate Kitchen. However, the lack of chemistry between Vinberg and Smith undermines the film and the narrative feels stagnant as it is forced into an unnecessary love-triangle. Given that Camille has only just joined the group, her willingness to ditch them for a boy she shows no real connection with is confusing. The narrative would have been stronger had Moselle simply focused on the strong personalities of the actual Skate Kitchen members, perhaps in an observational documentary. Instead they are made to play distilled version of themselves, which sometimes brings into question their acting abilities.
Yet, whilst it produces a disappointing result, the film hasn’t fully abandoned its foundational themes as some may argue. Camille’s foray into the male skating realm provides her with an important insight. Earlier in the film, whilst watching skate videos of boys doing stunts, Camille says: “I feel like a lot of good skaters just don’t think… and us girls, we think too much.” Whilst skating with Devon and his crew, we see that her real interest is not one of romance, but in the way boys skate: aggressive and fearless. But on the other hand, Camille endures a lonely evening with Devon’s rowdy roommates to juxtapose the intimate times she had previously spent with Skate Kitchen.
What ultimately saves the film from its weak plot is its beautiful cinematography. It celebrates the execution of delicate routines with countless skateboarding montages; creating the impression of a beautifully curated Instagram feed. But best of all are the dreamy shots following the girls around the streets of New York City. Foul mouthed, unruly and proud – we watch them claim space in a film that offers an alternative to cinema’s previous fetishisation of skateboarding as a masculine and turbulent subculture.
Image Credit: Movie DB.