Directed by Anthony Burns. Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, Taylor Handley, A.J. Buckley, Brett Cullen, Melinda McGraw, James LeGros, Haley Ramm. (2011, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 20, 2011
“The future's open wide," sang Modern English's Robbie Grey on the band's 1982 single “I Melt With You.” For a time, if you were coming of age but maybe not trying so hard to grow all the way up, the song exuded a sense of effortless romance and the promise of something better somewhere else: "There's nothing you and I won't do/I'll stop the world and melt with you." Teenage kicks for high school hicks, sure, but nothing thrums so steadily in the heart of small-town, teenage daydreamers as the insistence of their music; it's that beat and those words they'll long for and, if they're lucky, hear on their dying day. But that's a long way off for the kids who live in a backwater East Texas town and spend their weekends going in circles at the local skating rink, existing for the moment, simply and endearingly. The future looms, and despite the promises of Eighties pop music (Gary Numan's presciently paranoiac "Cars" excluded, natch), only a fool would think it gets better. There’s only one perfect summer allowed per customer, more or less. Skateland is a sweet, knowing, visually spot-on evocation of early-Eighties teen life, and while maybe nothing much seems to be going on here – almost-adults having fun, skating, partying, breaking up and and possibly, hopefully, breaking out – Texan director/screenwriter Burns has done such a thorough job of perfectly re-creating the moment that even the non-events (family dinners, procrastinated college-enrollment applications, the banal yet life-or-death routines of being a teen on the cusp) are lovingly rendered. Fernandez is Ritchie, the young manager of the titular hangout, and he'd be happy to stay there forever. But, you know, life has other plans, girlfriend trouble being not the least of them. Skateland has plenty of sympathy for its youthful demi-idealists and owes a major debt to Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. That film's costume designer, Kari Perkins, works the same magic here, as does production designer Chris Stull, a longtime Robert Rodriguez associate. But it's Austin-native Director of Photography Peter Simonite who really nails the bittersweet vibe – and therefore the entire film – with his flawless compositions of life in small-town Texas. Skateland is dedicated to the late teen film icon John Hughes. I think he'd pretty proud.