I remember the eighties pretty clearly. Granted I was in elementary school and not a teenager, but that era still brings back fond memories. Those memories came flooding back while watching Skateland. The film takes place around 1983 in an east Texas small town whose local roller skating rink is starting to wane in popularity. The main character of this tale is Ritchie Wheeler played by Shiloh Fernandez. He is one of the managers of Skateland who really has nothing planned for his life outside of his current job. He has already graduated from high school and is content to just hang out with his friends. Ritchie’s world collapses when he learns that the skating rink is closing, and he is forced to look at what is next for him.
Ritchie has to deal with his home life falling apart. His mom has become a modern woman and no longer wants to be the housewife that his dad wants. His younger sister is smart and charming and desperately wants Ritchie to go to college and make something of himself.
One of Ritchie’s best friends comes back into town. Brent Burkman (Heath Freeman) is a motocross racer who is a few years older than Ritchie and has seen more of the world. He loves women and beer and does not want to settle down at all. Brent was much of the comedy relief of the movie, doling out advice to his younger disciples. His younger sister, Michelle (Ashley Greene), is also one of Ritchie’s friends. Michelle is beautiful and has a good head on her shoulders. She is determined to get out of this town and go to college. Working at Musictown is not her career achievement. There is also the rich friend, Kenny (Taylor Handley), who lives in the nice house on the lake, drives the coolest car, and throws the best parties. These three characters make up the close circle of friends that surround Ritchie.
Skateland is a slice of the eighties with the cars, clothes, and music playing a central role in the feel of the movie. The movie opens to “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. and ends with “I Melt With You” by Modern English. This was the generation when mixtapes were one of the best romantic gestures. The record and tape collections were epic. The computer was making its appearance in homes for the first time; giant, monochromatic PCs that were not good for much. The cut-off shorts were popular and the primary color tanks and shorts were too cool for school. Long hair was in for boys and girls and there was no such thing as too much blue eye shadow. This is the setting for Skateland and the film did a wonderful job of portraying it all.
While Skateland is fun, it also has some serious moments. Death and divorce are just two of the events that squash any carefree life that Ritchie thought he would have. It makes him grow up. In these dramatic moments, it shows how well-rounded the film actually is. Skateland is not Dazed and Confused. It is more similar to the iconic John Hughes films of the 198os.
This is the second film I have seen Shiloh Fernandez in. Red Riding Hood probably was not the best place to showcase his acting ability. Fernandez got plenty of screen time in Skateland and he did not disappoint. I look forward to seeing him more films. This is the first film for Ashley Greene where she has gotten very much screen time or many lines. I do not think The Twilight Saga films give her much of a chance to stretch her acting legs and show that she is more than a pretty face. I found her portrayal of Michelle pretty realistic, and I was impressed with her ability to show emotion. I really expected the worse from her, and I was pleasantly surprised. I also really liked Heath Freeman as Brent. He ended up being my favorite character in the film.
I cannot fault the film for anything much. I thought the acting was a bit stiff in some scenes and had some awkward silences in others. There is a ton of scenes with the cast smoking. I had to wonder how many cigarettes were used in the filming.
Towards the end of the film, I came to realize that there were some scenes that took place in one take, never taking the lens off of the actor it focused on. Technically I found it fascinating and kudos to the actors for making it through the long takes.
Skateland is written by Heath and Brandon Freeman and Anthony Burns. All three grew up in east Texas and wanted to write a story about the eighties and what they remember from their youth. About twenty drafts later, Skateland was born and the trio brought in producers along with Brandon’s Freeman Films to get the movie made. Burns ended up directing the movie. The film has shown at film festivals, but it has not gotten the attention it deserves.
I ended up LOVING the film. Skateland is a film that I would gladly see a second time and want to add to my DVD collection. If the film had taken place in present day, I do not think it would have struck the same chord with me. The eighties were such a more innocent, less complex time and that is reflected in the film. I found myself laughing many, many times and becoming attached to the characters. The soundtrack just brought back that nostalgic feeling and taking me back to that skating rink that I loved to go to as a child. It is unique for a film to be able to conjure up good memories of childhood. Skateland has the cred of an indie movie, but deserves the attention of major release. I hope this is a movie that people will take a chance on. Skateland deserves it.
I give Skateland 4.5 “cut-off shorts” out of 5.
P.S. I was able to interview Shiloh Fernandez and Heath Freeman at SXSW 2011 about Skateland. I had not seen the film yet, so excuse the mistakes and generic questions, but please check it out. If only I could do that interview again now. . .