Minding the Gap
22 March 2019
Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.
Keire Johnson, Bing Liu, Zack Mulligan
Skateboarding is usually a hobby that crops up in most adolescent males as they grow up. Whether it’s a passing fad, a passion, or a serious sport, the boys of the past couple of generations have had some experience with it. I tried it myself thanks to the addictive exuberance of the Tony Hawk series of videogames on the Playstation 1, before quickly giving it up when the crushing reality that it requires a huge amount of effort to master became apparent. But there are people in which skateboarding sinks its claws so deeply into that it becomes a vital part of their existence, and Minding the Gap is a documentary about three of those people.
There is a wonderful and frank intimacy to Minding the Gap thanks to its personal relation to director Bing Liu, who is one of the three young skateboarders the film focuses on. The other two are his best friends Keire and Zack, who all live in Rockford, Illinois; a city which has seen much better days. We see them as fearless children, fooling around as teenagers and eventually as young adults struggling to grow up and find their own paths. We see their best and worst times, their loves and their fears, and how the act of skating together would temporarily free them of their problems.
Watching it feels like watching a home movie, and some of the footage captured is exactly that, but Liu manages to retain an intensely focused narrative that weaves an impressively complex tapestry of his life and his friends. This is due to Liu’s determination to shed light on his experiences, which includes facing the traumatizing abuse he suffered from his stepfather. His friends experienced similar hardships and what starts as a skateboarding documentary slowly turns into something much more serious. There are questions raised about the cyclical effect of the neglect or abuse they all suffered, especially with Zack, who is a struggling new father and often feels a fraud. Kiere seems utterly lost in his new adult world where he must find a job, and the film demonstrates the severe problems caused by male emotional suppression through Kiere. Meanwhile, Bing himself bravely sits down with his mother in a heartbreaking interview to try and heal past scars.
It’s miraculous that Minding the Gap never feels self-serving or preachy, but it simply never does. It’s a sensitive study on manhood in today’s climate peppered with keen observations on race and class to boot, whilst also celebrating the culture of skateboarding and it’s therapeutic qualities. Speaking of skateboarding, the film is layered with a series of sublime sequences of the three friends skating and pulling off impressive tricks through Rockford. Set to a soothing score by Nathan Halpern and Chris Ruggiero, the liberating feeling from this subculture really shines through better than any film I’ve seen on the subject.
Minding the Gap might not be what you expect from a “skateboarding documentary” as it meanders unexpectedly through various hard-hitting subjects, but it never feels misjudged or ill-considered. Quite the opposite actually; the entire canvas of ideas shot through Bing Liu’s camera fits so perfectly it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. Sensational.
Minding the Gap is currently playing in select UK theatres.
Raw and intimate documentary
Beautiful skateboarding sequences
Rich with observations on 21st century manhood