2018 is the year of the coming-of-age skate movie
Skate Kitchen, Mid90s and Minding the Gap are the films set to 360 pop shove it to the man for the rest of the summer.
Still from Skate Kitchen
You need only look back to 1995’s Kids, a window into the exploits of NYC skate rats, to see that the coming-of-age skate movie is nothing new. In fact there are heaps of examples: Paranoid Park, Gus Van Sant’s movie about a freight-hopping skater; Thrashin’, a gloriously 80s movie featuring a tribe of leather-clad misfits called The Daggers; or Street Dreams, the frankly cringe drama with an endless string of skater cameos, from Stevie Williams to Jim Greco (seriously, avoid this one).
What do all these movies have in common besides a plank of wood with four wheels? Social pariahs, teens from broken homes, skaters who skate as a means of escaping their teen angst bullshit (to quote Veronica Sawyer). In almost every movie -- from Ken Park to Lords of Dogtown -- you’ll find a story centred on a troubled teen’s transition into adulthood, peppered generously with the staple ingredients mentioned above.
Though yes, coming-of-age skate stories have existed as long as the subculture itself, this year the genre does seem to be having a moment. Scroll through any 2018 movie release schedule and you’ll spot not one, not two, but three hard-hitting coming-of-age stories tethered to the subculture.
The first is Skate Kitchen, a New York tale of a skater called Camille who befriends an all-girl crew called the Skate Kitchen. When her mum forbids her from skating, Camille secretly lowers her board out of her bedroom window via a piece of string and climbs out after it. She catches a Manhattan-bound train and meets the crew at a LES skatepark, where she carves out her own identity on and off the board.
Filmmaker Crystal Moselle cast the real-life Skate Kitchen crew after discovering them on Instagram, which explains why the movie feels so naturalistic -- like you’re watching a fly-on-the-wall doc about a genuine NYC subculture. One minute the girls are in a bedroom adorned with Elissa Steamer posters, chatting about menstruation, the next they’re in the park discussing 180 techniques. It’s an inspiring portrait of the crew, showing how skaters -- male, female, young, old -- create their own worlds, their own communities, bound by their love of throwing themselves down sets of stairs.
Skate Kitchen also doffs its hat to Kids with a cameo by pro-skater Javier Nunez (aka one of the shirtless skaters smoking a joint on the couch in the 90s movie). Here he appears in another smoke-filled apartment, on another couch some 20-plus years later, alongside Jaden Smith as a skater-photographer with clumsy chat-up lines (“I seen you at the park, shreddin’”).
Minding the Gap
Next up: Minding the Gap, a new doc that centres on a group of skaters transitioning into adulthood. The outsider roots of skate culture again come to the fore as the friends flee their problems via their boards. “Skateboarding is more of a family than my family,” one teen explains. They walk along railway tracks on skate missions, they party; all the while you sense the tug of adulthood and responsibility. “We have to fully grow up and it’s gonna suck,” says another.
Bing Liu’s film reflects on that cusp-of-adulthood anxiety as well as the question: What happens to friendships rooted in skating when an uncertain future comes knocking? These skaters are figuring out who they are, and which path to take as they near their 20s. Deeper than that, though, Minding the Gap touches on the domestic abuse and trauma that the subjects experienced growing up in Rockford, a rust-belt town outside of Chicago, and the solace that skating brings them. In the end, despite how shitty life can seem, the simple act of pushing down the street is what holds their world together. As one teen puts it: “As long as I’m able to go skate I’m completely fine.”
The year’s most hotly anticipated skate-centric tale is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s. In it, Hill takes us back to 90s LA, where a 13-year-old kid called Stevie (Sunny Suljic) escapes his troubled home life and befriends a bunch of older skaters at a local skate shop. Hill -- now officially a writer/director -- films Stevie’s leap into adolescence, as he dodges both his abusive older brother and security guards at skate spots.
Troubled teen from broken home? Check. Skateboarding as escape from said home? Check. Making new friends during one unforgettable summer? Check. And yet this looks more promising than your run-of-the-mill skate movie. Perhaps because Hill himself grew up as a 90s skater and has deep ties to the culture, having appeared recently in Palace promos and Supreme clips (you can spot Supreme pro Na-kel Smith in a small role in the movie). Judging by the trailer, Hill had heaps of fun painting the era-specific details of his youth, like those baggy Shortys tees, XXL denim jeans, and of course, the Wu-Tang soundtrack. If you skated in the mid-to-late 90s, before sports trainer brands dominated the industry, the trailer will 100% win your heart. Cue warm fuzzy nostalgia feelings.