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Skateland  (2011)
2 Stars
Directed by Anthony Burns.
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Taylor Handley, Heath Freeman, Brett Cullen, Melinda McGraw, James LeGros, Haley Ramm, A.J. Buckley, Casey LaBow, D.W. Moffett, Ellen Hollman, David Sullivan.
2011 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, some sexuality, language and substance abuse).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 9, 2011.
The 1980s are suddenly a very popular era in present-day cinema, enough time having passed to view the decade with a sense of bittersweet nostalgia rather than as the punchline of a joke. "Skateland" isn't as consistently successful as 2009's "Adventureland" and 2011's "Take Me Home Tonight," but, like those films, takes many of its cues from the late John Hughes (it is even dedicated to him in the end credits). Best when the picture is accurately and sweetly recalling the time period and focusing on the coming-of-age journey toward enlightenment of its lead character, 19-year-old Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez), the film tends to meander on occasion with a plot that takes a while to find itself and a few too many extraneous supporting players who don't directly add anything to the central narrative. When first-time director Anthony Burns finds his footing, however, the picture finally realizes its ambitions.

In small-town Texas, circa 1983, aspiring writer Ritchie Wheeler is one year out of high school and still not sure what his next step should be. Living at home and four years into a managerial position at local roller-skating rink Skateland, Ritchie whiles away his free time partying with old classmates and hanging out with gal pal Michelle (Ashley Greene) and her older brother Brent (Heath Freeman). Not sure if he wants to go to college—he snaps at his adoring younger teen sister Mary (Haley Ramm) when she tries to help him out with applications—Ritchie is at a crossroads that completely perplexes him. Little by little, through a series of life-changing events over the next few months that affect both his family and friendships, his desires for the future gradually pull into focus.

For a movie of relatively small means and a tight budget, "Skateland" paints a detailed, believable glimpse of the 1980s and has an impressively extensive soundtrack of decade-specific tunes to go with it. Those songs couldn't have come cheap—everything from Queen to Blondie to REO Speedwagon to The Cars to The Talking Heads to New Order to A Flock of Seagulls is put to terrific use—but they help to set up a nice mood that carries the script through its more languid early passages. Shiloh Fernandez (2011's "Red Riding Hood") isn't the most ingratiating of presences as protagonist Ritchie, but as the film gets to know and understand him better, so, too, does the viewer. The second half is especially solid as the side characters are enlivened and a few unforeseen serious turns bring urgency to Ritchie's decisions about the next phase of his life. As friend and possible love interest Michelle, Ashley Greene (2010's "Eclipse") is terrific, and the finale, scored to Modern English's "I Melt with You," would make John Hughes proud. "Skateland" isn't just about the end of one's adolescence, it turns out, but the culmination of a particular time that is about to be gone forever.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman