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rochefort [Film Festival 03.20.10] movie review comedy drama



Year: 2010
Directors: Anthony Burns
Writers: Anthony Burns/Brandon Freeman
IMDB: link
Stills: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 2 out of 10

Ritchie Wheeler ("Deadgirl"'s Shiloh Fernandez), is a bright young kid who works at the local skating rink, has a crush on his best friend's sister (Ashley Greene), and is searching for some direction and purpose in his life. He's like a lot of small town kids, goes to parties, has a little trouble at home, tries to do the right thing, etc. And his days of carefree wandering are inevitably coming to an end.

Anthony Burns' "Skateland" is an early 80's coming of age story, one that will inspire a bit of deja vu for anyone who's seen "Dazed and Confused", Richard Linklater's 70's-set ode to feathered hair and cut-off jeans. But, unlike "Dazed", which proved a smart director can breathe new life into a worn-out genre, "Skateland" may be the movie that inspires a moratorium on similarly-themed pics until we can get some guarantees that the next one will be at least a little better than the average Afternoon Special.


Technically, "Skateland" has a lot going for it. Peter Simonite's cinematography looks really good, the period detail is spot-on, and the soundtrack is full of recognizable (and probably slightly pricey) 80's pop tunes. There's even a poster for Depeche Mode's "A Broken Frame" on one character's wall, you know, the way Ferris Bueller proudly displayed one for Cabaret Voltaire's "Micro Phonies". And the cast, which includes Fernandez, "Mad Men"'s Melinda McGraw, James LeGros and Heath Freeman, is confident and seasoned enough to handle any number of dramatic challenges, but they don't get a single one here. The script stuffs each of them with shovelfuls of trite, bargain-basement dialogue, each attempt to blend small-town common talk with winking, self-consciously clever "Dawson's Creek"-isms falling embarrassingly flat. And all the bare-chested pretty-boy good guys, groupies/girlfriends, one-note grown-up's, and chaw-chewing homicidal hillbillies that serve as the main foils are written and directed as mere slots to fill, not as actual characters to inhabit. The creators don't relate to any of them, and place them like pieces on a chessboard to one end and one end only, to buy indie street cred. In the end the only real challenge posed by "Skateland" is to those of us in the audience who can't ignore the elephant in the room: A fraud is being perpetrated here.

It has been a long, long time since I've had this strong of a biologically negative reaction to a movie, indie or otherwise. There's just such an insulting obviousness to Burns' lazy mish-mash of formula and faux authenticity that the whole thing comes off like a patronizing take on "Breaking Away" concocted by enterprising jock posers. Go to any record store left in the country, no matter how uncool (your chances are best in the nearest mall), head to their compilation bin, and pull out anything with "Greatest Hits of the 80's" on its cover. You've just picked up the soundtrack to "Skateland". Take any, and I do mean any, coming-of-age tv movie from the period of, say, 1976 to 1990, jot down the requisite plot points, and be sure and take out anything overly confrontational, insightful, or otherwise thought-provoking. You should be left with a confused and aimless main character who will inevitably go through some spare emotional rite of passage, a pure-hearted wannabe girlfriend who inspires him to find some focus in life, the newly-returned best friend who gets a couple of funny lines and has a target on his forehead, a mom and dad getting a divorce, and for Melrose's sake don't leave out the car chase. Bam, you've just written the script for "Skateland". See how easy this is? The filmmakers sure do, and they don't miss a single opportunity to inflect "Skateland" with all the manipulative plotting and melodrama of a Texas-set "Beverly Hills 90210", but without even whatever x-factor or pact with the devil that helped that show pull the wool over so many eyes.

Here's the thing. When a good and/or conscientious writer or director tells a story about a self-absorbed fashion designer, arrogant lawyer, snobby ad exec, rich high schooler, etc., there's always the chance that we'll glean some insight or catharsis as they show us some unappreciated or misunderstood irony or humanity in the subject matter. But when such material is handled by creators who are obviously as shallow as their characters, it rarely, if ever, results in anything resembling good storytelling. We have a word for it, in fact: trash. So when you're watching a movie about underdogs, blue-collar types and just regular old joes, and the filmmakers are clearly more interested in smarmy and highly unrealistic dialogue, contrived and emotionally bankrupt conflicts, and cheap, manufactured tragedy (to inject an 11th-hour dose of heaviness) than they are in any depiction of experiences among actual human beings, then the whole thing plays like some kind of warped and callous experiment. In "Skateland"'s case, it feels like an anthropological study conducted by some frat guy who heard that hot chicks dig sensitive filmmakers. Keep that stuff off the silver screen, and on CW where it belongs.


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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

yea, I saw this at Sundance and was really let down. I took a friend for his first ever Sundance movie and that made it even worse. HE and I both felt like the script was written by using a 'script writing 101' book. seemed VERY cliche and had a formulated feel to it.

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Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Peter Simonite is a BAAAAADASSSSSS

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Tim21 (11 years ago) Reply

I saw the trailer for this or "featurete" as they called it, ad also was let down. It seems its waxing nostalgic for the 80's was intended to carry the film, and nothing more. In other words it didn't pull me in.
There's a screenplay flaoting around on the internet called '84 that I hope someone makes. It's also set in the early eighties. It's an edgy and dark dramma about a black Chevelle SS that comes between a high school senior and his mother, and it used to run down his long time bully. It's really good. It's a coming of age story about the main character but also about his mother's plight as a single mother trying to find a job in the early 80's. It's fresh material if you will, compared to the trite I don't know how to grow up of "Skateland."

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Dillon (11 years ago) Reply

Hey Tim21 - I am really interested the in the screenplay you are talking about - '84, but can't seem to find it. If you get this message do you mind letting me know where I can find it? Thanks!

dillonbr@usc.edu


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