If you have warm recollections about skating rinks and jelly bracelets, then 80s-era indie drama Skateland will probably be a nostalgic movie stroll. It premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and finally got a limited theatrical release last week. Skateland is a solid coming-of-age drama, though the unexceptional storyline and characters offer nothing new.
Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood) stars in Anthony Burns’ directorial debut as a young man who finds his world suddenly changing. Ritchie and his pals live in small-town Texas in the early 80s, where Ritchie manages the local hotspot skating rink, Skateland. Ritchie is stuck in a rut, and unable to make any big life decisions he’s content to coast along hanging with his female best bud Michelle (Ashley Greene) and partying at the lake with loaded friend Kenny (Taylor Handley).
With the arrival of town legend Brent (Heath Freeman), Ritchie finds things falling apart around him. When he finds out his beloved Skateland is closing, and his parents are getting a divorce, he’s forced to face change head on. Brent seems strangely happy to have come home to the boring little town, and Ritchie discovers things aren’t always what they appear. His mother admits she’s been cheating on his father for years, and then Brent admits he’s dried up as far as bike racing goes. After a tragic accident and death, he finds himself in a relationship quandary with Michelle and life in general.
Burns does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of waning days in Skateland. Certain cultural elements are passing away as the decade progresses, and so is the innocent irresponsibility of Ritchie. Like the skating rink, parts of his life have to close up to make room for a shopping mall (aka progress). Burns not only directed Skateland, but wrote and produced it. His characters were all stereotypical and clichéd, from the Richie Rich character with perfect hair, to the idiot Redneck. The story had its nostalgic moments, but was pretty tired as far as plot and relationship dynamics.
Part of the great atmosphere came from a tubular soundtrack featuring 80s icons Blondie, Flock of Seagulls, Modern English, and Def Leopard among others. As far as atmosphere, the costuming and cinematography added to its effectiveness. Plenty of intimate shots in lantern-lit yards and crowded parties, and the 80s period elements and fashion gave everything a brown-suede softness. There are surprisingly few skating scenes for a film named after a skating rink, but Skateland becomes, instead of a character or environment, a metaphor for Ritchie’s life.
Despite the pedantic dialogue, Fernandez does a good job at capturing the apathy and disillusionment that comes with growing up and facing change. His character’s muted relationship with best friend Michelle felt believable because it wasn’t overdone. Greene played an earnest gal pal in Michelle, and thankfully no sign of her Twilight alter ego. Brett Cullen and Melinda McGraw added some weight to Ritchie’s divorcing parents, though their parts weren’t written to give them a lot of room creatively. Freeman and Handley balanced their loyal friends roles with some cheekiness, and provided some of the rare humor in the film.
Going into Skateland, I thought it would be closer to an 80s teen comedy like Dazed and Confused, but it didn’t have the drug-hazed antics or humor of Dazed and Confused. Nor did it have the emotional depth and satire of John Hughes’ seminal 80s-era dramedies (the film was dedicated to Hughes). Instead it turned serious early on, and though there was some light comedy, it certainly fell in the realm of the drama. I think this worked to the detriment of the film as a whole, as a heavier reliance on, say, the skating culture or humor could have saved it from mediocrity and a feeling that it took itself too seriously…which is a feat given that the main character is sporting feathered bangs. The film had great 80s atmosphere but was just too mundane to impress.