Hit up a skate park on Manhattans Lower East Side and, amid the skater bros and dudes smoking weed, youll find a tight-knit unit of talented teenage women. With unruly hair whipping their faces and socks pulled up under their Vans, the women belong to an inclusive group of young female skaters self-dubbed Skate Kitchen. The names a two-fingered salute to all the dickheads who have jeered at them to get off the quarter pipes and back in the kitchen.
These are the badass women cruising and kickflipping through Crystal Moselles Skate Kitchen, a narrative film adapted from the girls real lives. At its center is Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a Long Island native and skillful skater who religiously follows the girl gang on Instagram. Breaking her mothers rules, Camille begins trekking into the city to hang at the womens stomping ground, skating and smoking and making online videos. She becomes fast friends with the crew, getting particularly close to Kurt (Nina Moran), a no-filter firecracker, and Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), whose comfortable house and kindly dad make for a great summer refuge.
Riding the Brooklyn G train in 2016, Moselle, whod blown everyones mind the year before with her stranger-than-fiction debut documentary The Wolfpack, overheard a couple of teens recounting their past nights escapades. Moselle couldnt help but listen in. Nina has this incredible voice. It just travels, says Moselle, wearing giant crescent moon earrings and sipping on a green juice in Manhattan the week before the films release. She can silence a room.
But what really caught Moselles attention wasnt what the girls (who turned out to be Vinberg and Moran) were saying, but what they were toting: skateboards. When they got off at the same stop, Moselle cornered the teens and introduced herself while trying to covertly record them on her phone. They totally caught me, Moselle recalls. I actually still have the video.
The chance encounter spurred a years-long collaboration, resulting in what would become Moselles first narrative feature. To pen the script, Moselle copied down stories from the womens lives and shuffled them around on a big board. The Skate Kitchen consulted on every step, taking part in periodic improv workshops to ensure each scene felt organic and the dialogue true to their vernacular.
Similar to The Wolfpackin which Moselle observes a gaggle of teenage brothers quarantined in a tenement apartment by protective parentsSkate Kitchen engages the sort of anti-scripted yet lightly stilted vibe of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Dialogue is slangy and off the cuff. Thats valid is the movies most-recited phrase.
But reproducing skate parlance was only one part of Moselles mission. Devising realistic day-to-day conversationsranging from tampons to crushes to hookupswas the bigger challenge. Theres a real innocence to these girls and their scene. Its not, like, drug-fueled. Its very fun, Moselle says. I think Nina told me about how shed made out with three girls in one night, and I was like, OK, thats something we have to recreate.
In one scene, lounging at Janays, Kurt interrogates Camille about her sexual preference. Do you like dick or pussy? she demands. Boys I like boys, Camille offers. Unfazed, Kurt replies, I like pussy. Good pussy. Later on, Camille approaches a different friend about a guy shes been seeing. Do you like him? she asks. I like how he gives me head, the friend replies, her mouth curled into a sly smile.
Story-wise, Skate Kitchen hits familiar coming-of-age beatsthe strict mother, the best friend secrets, the love trianglebut its casual verisimilitude elevates it to a league of its own. Of course, it doesnt hurt that its characters are dynamic, hardcore female athletes, the type of women you dont tend to see on the big screen.
With the movies buzz, Moselle has become the newest inductee into a nebulous girl gang of her own, an expanding (but still criminally scant) array of modern female directors approaching womens stories with a refreshing sense of authenticity: Andrea Arnold, Dee Rees, Elizabeth Wood. Arnolds 2016 teen road epic American Honey is a particularly frequent point of comparison for Moselles film due to the parallel hip-hop soundtracks, zippy handheld camera, and brave trust in first-time actors.
The only young professional cast member in Skate Kitchen is Jaden Smith, who plays Camilles love interest Devon. Smith came to mind for the part while Moselle and the crew were brainstorming actors; it was important that whoever played him actually knew how to skateboard. Serendipitously, Smith had DMed Vinberg on Instagram months earlier, complimenting her videos and inviting her to skate in Los Angeles should she ever be in town. Like Shia LaBeouf in American Honey, Smith slips into the ensemble seamlessly, drawing undue attention only via his hair, dyed bright red.
Moselle also shares Arnolds observant eye and sense of adventure. New York City has a long cinematic history, but in Skate Kitchen the familiar environs feel fresh and invigorating. The secret, Moselle says, was letting the girls take the lead. I love to see New York in a new perspective, she says. And to shut down the idea that New York is dead. Im like, you dont hang out with enough teenagers. These girls are finding a new version of New York every single day.
Teen girls have long been seen as notoriously mysterious creatures, and notoriously difficult to capture onscreen. But thats only because the majority who have endeavored to do so are of a different gender and generation. To them, the Skate Kitchen may as well be from another universe. Its no wonder viewers are also likening Skate Kitchen to Kids, the canonized exemplar of raw teenage realism written by a young Harmony Korine: Both films got a boost from someone on the inside.
Theres so many stories about what people think women talk about, says Moselle. The people that are putting the films out into the worldtheyre not women, theyre men. And I think its time for them to realize that people do want to see these films. That they want these stories to live.
She adds, Whats cool is that I think a lot of these films are being financed right now, but as far as them actually getting out into the world, its a little bit more tough. So I think its just about pushing forward.