By Leah Greenblatt
August 08, 2018 at 03:30 PM EDT
Magnolia Pictures

No matter what era, being a teenager is always about trying to find your tribe; the friends who make you feel like the truest version of yourself, or at least whoever you think you might want to be.

In Crystal Moselle’s kinetic lo-fi verité, 18-year-old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) knows where she feels most at home: on a skateboard. She also knows that the real heartbeat of the community she’s longing for is across the bridge in Manhattan, not in her sleepy New Jersey suburb.

Her single mom (Elisabeth Rodriguez) insists that skating is too dangerous; she’s already ended up at the hospital at least once. So Camille agrees to stop, but she can’t — especially after she falls in with an all-girl Lower East Side crew who call themselves Skate Kitchen and earns their hard-won approval.

Kitchen is the narrative debut from writer-director Moselle, who won a Sundance Jury Prize for her 2015 documentary The Wolfpack, though it mostly comes off like a fantastically set mood piece; a study in movement and freedom and how it feels to be young.

If anything, the story’s flow suffers when she tries to inject too much dialogue or deeper meaning (a drawn-out monologue on Rachelle’s family background, a tangled romantic subplot with fellow skater Jaden Smith). The movie is consistently at its best when Moselle just lets her camera follow the girls — a real-life collective that includes Nina Moran, a wild ball of id in a backwards baseball cap, and Ardelia Lovelace as the generous friend who takes Camille in.

Shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner in hazy, endless-summer half-light, Kitchen finds a kind of urban poetry in the swooping parabolas of the skate park and the rumbling scrape of wheels on pavement. There’s a great moment when a little girl holding her mother’s hand on a broiling New York City sidewalk turns back to watch the crew rip past her on their boards whooping and laughing, their hair streaming in the tailwind. You can see her eyes light up; they’ve just shown her how to fly. B