“Skateland” covers familiar territory — the first summer out of high school, which for some teens is a time wracked with uncertainty and confusion. Yet director Anthony Burns’ new film, which he wrote with Brandon and Heath Freeman, still manages to offer a particularly affecting, well-observed portrait of young people coming of age in an east Texas town in the 1980s.
At the beginning of summer, Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez) is a happy guy. He has resisted the efforts of his younger sister Mary (Haley Ramm) and his girlfriend, Michelle (Ashley Greene), to apply for college; he is content, taking his time to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
In fact, he has such a strong sense of security that he could be in danger of ending up managing the local roller-skating rink for the rest of his life. He loves hanging out with his pals — Kenny (Taylor Handley), a rich kid who hosts frequent boozy parties, and Brent (Freeman, the film’s strongest presence), Michelle’s older brother, recently returned home after triumphs as a bike racer.
Ritchie’s first inkling that change is inevitable comes with the news that Skateland is to be shut down permanently. More serious surprises and developments, all of them credible, soon follow. One timeless truth emerges here: Women tend to mature more easily than men. Michelle can’t wait to move on and attend the University of Texas, yet Ritchie does not realize that his potential stagnation threatens their love for each other. Michelle is a self-starter, while it takes a chain of circumstances to shake Ritchie out of his rut.
“Skateland” is not on the same artistic level as “The Last Picture Show” yet has its own integrity and value — and a fine array of performances.