One of the very best directorial debuts I saw at Sundance was that of Jordana Spiro, whose care for her characters and their hurt transcends what seems like a recognizable story pitch. Dominque Fishback (previously seen on HBO’s “The Deuce”) plays Angel, a young woman who has just been released from prison. Essentially homeless and with no one to take care of her but a parole officer, she is quietly fixated on killing her father, who she saw murder her mother in their family home years ago. The parole officer is no help in giving her the father’s whereabouts, but he does offer a sense that she could have a happy life if she pulls herself together. But Angel persists, and finds out that her precocious, bubbly and orphaned younger sister Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall) has visited their father in the past. Under the guise of a brief family reunion, Angel lets Abby guide them out of the city, to his house.
“Night Comes On” does not shy from the darkness that is within these characters—they have clearly been through so much, and have experienced such sad things. But Spiro and co-writer Angelica Nwandu remain sincerely focused on the tragedy within them, while showing the complicated feelings behind those who do, or want to do, evil acts. Fishback recalls the stoic, impenetrable work of Bria Vinaite in “The Florida Project,” showing us someone who has been rejected from society so intensely that they refuse any sense of love back, as Fishback does in many bittersweet passages opposite her albeit very charming on-screen sister.
There are some indie movie cliches that find their way into the story (this certainly wasn’t the only Sundance movie I saw with dreamy images of the suburbs, or ominous shots of the beach), but those prove to be so uncharacteristic of the movie’s emotional edge. For the most part this is neorealist storytelling that is working on a higher plane than most stories about revenge or trauma, and it offers a strikingly tender handling of such a tough albeit totally human tale. The amount of empathy within “Night Comes On” is a spectacle itself.
After capturing the story of real-life, homemade directors in “The Wolfpack,” documentarian Crystal Moselle turns to fictional filmmaking with her super rad coming-of-age movie “Skate Kitchen.” Her interest and eye for unique teenagers proves to be quite a lively quality with this script that she co-wrote, which gives center stage to the young women who skateboard throughout New York City.
Newcomer Rachelle Vinberg stars as Camille, our cool and calm surrogate into this world of alternative teens and no kneepads. She’s a strong skateboarder on her own, but doesn’t really excel until she connects with a group of other young women boarders, who skate at this place called Skate Kitchen in NYC. She starts a special bond with them, as they exchange skate boarding horror stories and also about the various stresses of growing up. All the while, she has a strained relationship with her mother, who doesn’t like her skateboarding. She becomes friends with a male photographer who also skateboards (Jaden Smith), who invites her into the world. With many of the performances given by non-actors, people who lead with their personality, adept line-reading and unmistakable skills, “Skate Kitchen” is for the young pioneers of sports, as made directly by them.
“Skate Kitchen” is intentionally conventional, if not even poppy, by its narrative that tackles broad themes like growing up, friendship, having a passion for something, etc. But it has a distinct, victorious flavor with its love for capturing the subculture as a whole, able to balance both the values of storytelling and documenting. Even when certain moments recall familiar coming-of-age, rebellious teen movie beats (such as Camille’s contention with her mother), “Skate Kitchen” doesn’t slow down. The characters, sketched out enough to be recognizable but without any huge plot driving them, fill the space nicely and make for great heroes as Moselle’s cinematography zips along with them around skate parks and through NYC streets.
As a special bonus, “Skate Kitchen” uses its accessible values as if it were restorative, hoping to give the women who skateboard a movie to watch in-between homemade skate vids. “Skate Kitchen” exists in a time when it’s still not normalized for men to see women on skateboards, but the crystal clear coolness of Moselle’s film proves they should get with the program.