Skate culture seems to be kick-flipping its way back on to our cinema screens, via coming-of-age stories by Crystal Moselle (‘Skate Kitchen’) and, soon, Jonah Hill’s ‘Mid90s’. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s taken this doc – by debut director Bing Liu – to bring real vulnerability to a mini-genre that’s often characterised more by its devil-may-care bravado and slangy edge.
Liu returns to his hometown of Rockford, 90 miles outside Chicago, to reconnect with old skate buddies Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan. At first, he seems to take a breezy approach as we follow the trials and tribulations that come with his pals’ journey into adulthood. We keenly observe the trio skate, party, skate, work, skate, and party some more. Slowly, unease creeps into their happy-go-lucky attitudes. Keire is washing dishes at a local restaurant, while Zack is a roofer with a baby on the way with his younger girlfriend Nina. Neither seems satisfied.
As Liu probes deeper and self-critically, we learn that skating isn’t the only thing that connects them, but domestic violence too. The way that each has experienced it has shaped who they are today, for better or worse.
Featuring some brilliant camerawork by Liu and the late Dylan Sakiyama, ‘Minding the Gap’ is an impressive feature that provides an intimate and grounded examination of racism, violence, manhood and economic anxiety in the US. It will warm your heart but possibly break it a little too.