A devastating look at fractured lives and their search for an escape.
Streaming on Hulu | Not rated | 2018 | 1h 40m
Genre: Longitudinal documentary
Why I watched: I've been all over the board with my recent TV- and movie-watching. I've gone from Fyre to On the Basis of Sex to Killing Eve and, truthfully, didn't know what my brain wanted next. While I was sifting through streaming platforms, I remembered that my coworker, Ashley, recommended Minding the Gap and thought a documentary would be the perfect palate cleanser.
You might also like: Boyhood is a movie that has stuck with me. The coming-of-age drama follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood through his arrival at college as he navigates growing up. In a feat that distinguishes director Richard Linklater from the recent wave of coming-of-age-narratives, Boyhood was filmed with same cast over a 12-year span, allowing the camera to show Mason grow up in real time. The extended temporality makes an otherwise ordinary story emotionally compelling and manages to captures the nostalgia for always-fleeting childhood.
"Netflix finally cracked the Academy Awards," The New York Times declared this January, when the Academy announced its nominations for the 2019 Oscars. As Liz explained in her recent newsletter, Netflix's Roma is breaking new ground this award season with an astonishing 10 nominations, including the streaming platform's first-ever nomination for best picture. Yet—overshadowed by the excitement—there was another Oscars first in 2019. Hulu received its first nomination, too, for Minding the Gap.
The first feature film from director Bing Liu, Minding the Gap is a study of three young men from Rockford, Illinois. It follows the trio, Keire Johnson, Zack Mulligan, and filmmaker Bing Liu, as the bond over skating. In case you're wondering, now is when I'll mention that I have zero interest in skateboarding, extreme sports, or Tony Hawk (minus his great Twitter updates). Although Minding the Gap depicts the lives of skaters, it presents skating in a way that made me forget it's a sport filled with kickflips and ollies. Skateboarding, as depicted in the title sequence, is made serene and cathartic as the camera follows Keire and Zack gliding into the sunset.
But skateboarding is really a form of escapism for the subjects of the documentary. As the men get older, Rockford becomes rougher on them. They struggle to make ends meet, share failed business ventures, and feel the strain of family demands. They also all experience domestic violence. This theme builds gradually during the first half the film, almost as if it wasn't what Liu intended the documentary to uncover. Keire grapples with the memories of his abusive father, now deceased, while mourning this overwhelming loss. Liu recollects his alcoholic stepfather, who beat his family and created distance between Liu and his mother. And, in perhaps the most nascent example, it emerges that Zack, a new father, hit his then-girlfriend Nina.
Minding the Gap's greatest feat is that it treats each story honestly and vulnerably, in a way that Liu could only accomplish by participating as a subject in the story. For his own narrative and Keire's, Liu reveals the complexity of memories that have shaped their perception of masculinity. When it comes to Zack, Liu doesn't make excuses, nor does he condemn him. He simply lets everyone share their side of the story without judgement.
Although it's not an optimistic film, Minding the Gap certainly has its bright spots: Keire getting his job as a dishwasher, the buoyant energy of the opening skate park scene, "This Year" by The Mountain Goats. Contrasted with the darker, tumultuous stories of domestic violence, substance abuse, and economic dislocation, these moments of hope give the documentary's title a greater significance. Minding the Gap is about the distance between who we are and who we project we are to the world, about who we know ourselves to be and want to become.