Forgotten Gem: Skateland: Remember when people responded to tragedy?

Skateland – 2010

Directed by Anthony Burns
Starring Shiloh Fernandez,  Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, James LeGros, Taylor Handley, Haley Ramm, Heath Freeman, Melinda McGraw
Written by Anthony Burns, Brandon & Heath Freeman, Justin Gilley, Nicholas Jayanty, Victor Moyers

There was a point, about 4 hours after I got my first driver’s license, when I got into my first accident.  The details aren’t as important, save one.  There was a song playing in the stereo at the time, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.”  Strange as it is to remember the song playing, the line that followed the moment of impact, when my car hit the other:

“…Then I got Mary pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote…”

As the years followed, and my insurance rates were high enough that I had to keep working part-time during school and full-time during the summer, I thought of that moment of impact and what it meant to me, just like what it meant to the narrator of the song.  Much of my destiny was dictated by that moment.  There is a moment similar to this in Skateland.  The song playing at that moment is not in the car, though, it is in the mind of Ritchie Wheeler (Hernandez).  The moment of his impact, his mind’s eye takes a trip back through time, when life was never going to be any better, and then he comes back to a harsh reality.

Making his decision easier is his seeming girlfriend, Michelle Burkham (Greene).  She’s been around for all the good times, and she is the impetus for him to rise above the bad.  She has a stake in the impact, too.  She stood to lose a bit more.  But enough about that.

Skateland effortlessly plays like the dismal failure Take Me Home Tonight wanted to, but could not.  The characters are all post-high school kids, still living at home, but spending their money and their nights out on the town.  You know, the kind of people who Obamacare wants to have covered with their parent’s life insurance.  The kids have no real commitments and many entanglements.  Their devotion to each other has not been tested, so who knows how they would respond to tragedy.  They will get their chance before it’s over.

The soundtrack matches the feel of the movie, and it does not outpace the time period.  It helps to set some moods, and responds to others.  The script, with a whopping 6 writers, is surprisingly organic and authentic.  It has the feel of Dazed and Confused, if without the desperate search for jokes.  I get the feeling that the core of the screenwriters may have known each other and experienced some of these events firsthand.  Divorce is given the proper amount of despair, as Ritchie reels his way through the middle 1/3 of the movie.  Similarly, there is no PC moment about the horror that is drinking and driving early in the film.  It gives no portent of future events, as the character’s eyes need to be opened the same way ours does.  This adds to the feeling that there is an innocence to the time that had not been exposed of yet.

As for the performances, the trio of Ritchie, Michelle and her brother, Brent, played by Freeman, provide a very tight bond, making everything seem even more than the material would suggest.  Fernandez, Greene and Freeman have a very strong presence that carries the film to heights that films of  John Hughes and Cameron Crowe reached at their best.  Greene, in particular, is not only beautiful, but her eyes tell a story that words cannot express.  I look forward to seeing more of the work of all three.

If you lived through the time, or are curious about those who did, this humble film is as good as period pieces in the early 1980’s get.

(**** out of *****)

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