Skateland recalls enough better and more distinctive movies that it shoots itself in the foot (or should that be the roller skate?) before it can get very far. Like The Last Picture Show, it features a fading small-town business—a past-its-prime skating rink—with metaphorical heft. Like Dazed And Confused, it relishes in the summer idylls and antics of the local young’uns, and a few who really aren’t so young anymore. And like the more recent and similarly titled Adventureland, it’s a coming-of-age story set in the ’80s, complete with a dead-end job and a love interest visiting between Twilight engagements (Kristen Stewart in Adventureland; Ashley Greene in Skateland).
This isn’t to suggest that small Texas towns or the Bildungsroman or the cast members of any Stephenie Meyer adaptation should be declared forever off-limits. It’s just that Anthony Burns’ directorial debut is all trappings, with very little there there, giving the mind plenty of time to wander through compare-and-contrast games. Skateland is more soundtrack than substance.
Shiloh Fernandez plays a young man who’s been spending his post-high-school days in neutral, living at home, working at Skateland, writing (at which he’s apparently talented, though we’re given no sense of it), dodging his little sister’s nagging about his future, and lazily pursuing his ex while also getting closer to Greene, the younger sister of his good friend Heath Freeman. Freeman is something of a local star, an outsized goofball back in town after having left years ago for a motocross career that’s since tapered out. The pair obscure their directionlessness with parties by the lake, pretty girls, and new albums to play, though smaller shocks like Fernandez’s parents getting a divorce or the rink closing are followed by a jolting major one that forces all the characters to take stock.
Fernandez’s protagonist turns out to be Skateland’s insurmountable obstacle: He’s defined only by what he doesn’t have—which is a sense of what he wants—rather than by any actual qualities. Everyone likes him, even the town hoodlums who are the closest the film has to villains. Women throw themselves at him, employers can’t wait to hire him, and colleges are lined up waiting for him to throw them the merest wink of interest. If he were even a fraction as appealing to the audience as he so mysteriously is to everyone in the film, Skateland would be much more engaging. Instead, it just provides inspiration for titles to add to the Netflix queue.