Skateland is a Sundance-approved indie coming-of-age drama set in a small east Texas town in the 1980s. Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez), the 19 year old assistant manager of the eponymous roller rink, can’t decide what to do with his life – and who says he needs to assemble a meaningful, completed puzzle anyway? Especially when he has a steady source of happiness in his slacker job, which affords him plenty of free time to sink beers, spin records, and score with hot chicks like Michelle (Ashley Greene from Twilight, minus the fangs).
But then life starts shifting: Ritchie watches his parents split up and Skateland shuts down. He catches his mother in a nightclub with a man who is not his conservative father; then a car accident causes him to take another look at his life. Sensing that these traumatic events will provide all the inspiration he ever needs to make it as a writer, he starts clicking away at his Commodore 64.
Anthony Burns dedicated Skateland, his directorial debut, to the memory of late teen film icon John Hughes. Skateland is kinda like a cross between Almost Famous and Boogie Nights, however, it lacks the nasty edge that made each of those films iconic. Where it really succeeds is in its soundtrack – featuring 80s icons like Blondie, Def Leopard, Modern English and yep, Taco – and in the sweet evocation of a bygone era through a half-mocking medley of microwaves, mix-tapes and MTV moon-walking promos.
Overall, this is a competent film with a capable cast that comfortably coasts from cliché to cliché using retro costume and kitsch set design. There is a really good performance from Haley Ramm as Ritchie’s snarky sister; it’s a shame that she doesn’t feature more. The ending is slightly nauseating, seeking neither to shock nor titillate, simply to righteously uplift as our hero puts on his strait-laced adult skates.
In a roller rink, even with the greatest sense of momentum, you don’t really go anywhere anyway – you just go round and round. Skateland is not a compelling portrait of young adulthood; however, the richly textured cinematography does pay homage to hazy hick-town days in a way that perhaps John Hughes would have enjoyed.
Skateland is now available on DVD in Australia.