Anthony Burns’ achingly earnest coming-of-age dramedy Skateland plays like it started as a mixtape rather than a screenplay, with a wall-to-wall soundtrack of the most obvious musical choices for a movie set in 1983. Burns’ evocation of the period doesn’t go far beyond that hit parade, with music and fashion standing in for things like character development and plot motivation. For the first two-thirds of the movie, Burns seems more interested in creating a vibe than telling a story, and that’s mostly okay: The tunes are groovy, the attractive young actors wear their shaggy hairstyles well, and cinematographer Peter Simonite shoots every scene like he’s just discovered the Hipstamatic app for his iPhone.
Shiloh Fernandez is a Keanu Reeves-esque blank as Ritchie, a 19-year-old slacker who spends his time managing a roller rink (hence the title) and writing supposedly brilliant stories that we never get to hear. His sister pressures him to go to college, and his platonic female friend (Twilight’s Ashley Greene) pressures him for a relationship, but he just wants to chill out and let life happen. That’s tough to do when his parents are getting divorced and the roller rink is closing, and it gets even tougher with a late-breaking tragedy that turns the movie deadly serious way too quickly.
Burns can’t handle the transition from laid-back get-togethers to sobering doses of reality, and since we barely have any sense of who these characters are, it’s hard to care when their lives are torn apart. Burns rebuilds the vibe a bit toward the end, but by that time the clumsy drama has overshadowed the mellow atmosphere. It’s a total bummer.