The coming-of-age subgenre has seen numerous transformation through the years. Independent films from all over the world have especially taken up the theme of growing up with ultimate grace and sincerity – Diving into the various complexities of the subgenre that often involves breaking out of conventional shackles and driving a sense of happiness home. The last few years featured a lot of coming-of-age films that had the common theme of ‘coming-out’ and breaking off faith-related pathos. 2018, on the other hand, took the whole growing-up phase for a flying ride on four wheels.
Skateboarding and Coming-of-age have not been coupled together for the first time. Remember Larry Clark’s 1995 drama “Kids” that was about a day in the life of a few teenage skateboarders in New York? Or Gus Van Sant’s 2007 film “Paranoid Park” that featured a Skate-Punk’s desolating alienation? What all these films have in common is the feeling of disconnect from the world which is constantly trying to force things on them. These films subconsciously investigated the various fears that get involved when adolescence collides with the sense of growing-up due to a lack of stable domestic life.
In 2018, three films used the feeling of “freeing oneself” from conventional bounds by flying on one of these four-wheeled magic devices. They were all diverse in their characterizations but were deeply rooted to one another with their love for stand-out protagonists who just needed a push towards selfless realizations. In the following article, I discuss these three films and how they formulate a strange Skateboarding Trilogy:
3. Skate Kitchen | Director: Crystal Moselle
Crystal Moselle’s “Skate Kitchen” is her second collaboration with the real skate group – Her first being the 2016 short film The One Day. Posing it’s set of flaws up its sleave, the film chronicles the life of Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) a young woman who sneaks out of her overprotective mother’s humble abode in New Island by literally tieing her skateboard through a rope while letting in down from her window. She takes a train to Manhattan with a mere chance to meet the skateboarding crew that held her fascination.
Moselle’s film is a slice-of-life portrayal of a teen isolated from the world because all she could connect with is the urge to roll around on the board while having life hit her back. It’s an incredibly powerful representation of womanhood where the all-girls group becomes a community she could connect with. Her little moments of rebellion are shown with almost confusing delicacy. For instance, when she asks the group of girls about using a tampon in comparison to what her mother has always told her makes for some decisive learning steps.
The film gets most things about coming-of-age right. It understands the value of breaking out of the isolated mold and learning newer things in an environment that seems more familiar to a person. However, the entire ‘understanding-love’ angle in the film – Which almost feels like a documentary for its naturalistic flow, results in a mere fabrication. Moselle, who previously directed the brilliant documentary “The Wolfpack” fails to endow the film with a schematic flow which consequentially made me believe that this would have served better as a documentary on the crew and her personal experience with them rather than a scripted tale of teenage rebellion.
2. Mid 90s | Director: Jonah Hill
Who would have thought that the very first film that Jonah Hill would make wouldn’t be about a fat kid who is always grumpy about not being able to get laid? I sure thought so when Jonah Hill announced that he was making a film about a teenager. Surprisingly, he made “Mid90s” – A skateboarding coming of age film that doesn’t rely on nostalgia porn to really tell us the gravity of the story he wishes to tell.
Entirely aware of the era it is set in – The title is a complete reminder; the film centers around the life of Stevie (Sunny Suljic) a naive, shy and lonely teenager who is so used to getting beaten up that, on days when he doesn’t, he strangles and punches himself just to let his frustration out. Thankfully, Stevie finds solace and ultimate friendship in a group of punk boys who skate through their days and hang out in a Skate Shop when they aren’t. There’s a sense of instant self-realizations for Stevie who now finds better ways to vent out his tense household problems.
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Hill, who previously wrote Superbad and 21 Jump Street goes deeper while sketching these young characters. His film, that is occasionally funny as hell manages to give these youngsters a sense of belonging. However, he also bestows them with scars that run along their entire being. He also doesn’t hold back in showing how both good and bad company has something to teach an individual. Set to a beautiful rock and hip-hop soundtrack, the film pits its petite protagonist against a fearsome force of a confused mom and violent brother with that of riding high. Choosing wisely gives salvation but also promises pitfalls. It’s a coming of age troop that has been done to death. But Hill re-does it with some poignant sincerity.
1. Minding the Gap | Director: Bing Liu
Bing Liu – Who serves as a part of this self-questioning documentary about a trio of young skaters in Rockford, Illinois has held his camera up close for more than a decade. Which is why all the shots that feature these skaters swirling along mid-fences feel like a hypnotic montage. But it’s not just that, Liu’s “Minding the Gap” recollects almost a decade old footage to astonishingly questions the life of American youth.
On the surface, the film feels like your usual Skateboard Documentary that would recollect memories of how these young people made it big in the skating scene. But Liu – Who shot this film himself wishes to rig through the very center that plagues the lives of young people who run away from their homes. This is an incredibly personal look at fractured American lives that need internal catharsis.
In one of the most brilliant scenes I have seen all year, Bing Liu sits in front of his mother questioning about the physical abuse that was forced upon him by his stepfather when he was a teenager. In another, a teary-eyed Kiere Johnson is unable to find his father’s grave. The film is about skaters who have undergone domestic trauma, woefully accepted schematic racism and have also been a victim of economic dislocation due to a deranged teenage life. It’s an incredibly poignant and heartfelt documentary that knows that a person grows up at every bend of their lives and that coming-of-age doesn’t always add up for everyone.