Required Watching: Minding The Gap (2018)

Required Watching: Minding The Gap (2018)

By Keith Gatchel

Welcome back to Required Watching where we find you a documentary that you might not otherwise think to check out for those nights you just want to shake things up.

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What Happens:

Bing Liu, a resident of Rockford, IL, shows his friends, as much of skaters, growing up from their teenage years into adulthood.

Accurate vs Artistic:

Aside from the statistics cited by the news, there’s no real need to question any particular facts. Otherwise, no moments are staged that aren’t shown as deliberate, with everyone aware of the camera most of the time. Mulligan even at one point asks Liu if he’s in an interview or just acting natural. At the same time, Liu’s not afraid to call his friends out as subjects and remind them they’re in a documentary, even at one point saying he’s getting skating footage for a montage.

Drinking Game:

Take a shot every time someone falls and/or spits on the ground.

Why You Should Watch It:

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If you have a teenager going into high school, currently in high school, or they graduated and are just lazy, then sit them down in front of this movie. In fact, tie them to a chair and set next to them a Red Bull with a long, twisty straw.  Are you a teacher? Play this in health class. Hell, play it during lunch on a loop. I know that’s a lot of hype, but I feel the need to say that now before getting into any real details about the movie. And, for this one I feel the need to describe it a bit backwards, starting with the more heavier aspects and getting lighter (otherwise, I thought this might all come across as glib).

Full disclosure: I grew up in Rockford until I was fifteen years old, then north to Rockton, where I lived until I left for college. I regularly refer to it as “the Detroit of Illinois,” and I kid because I love. While I don’t feel the need to praise Rockford in any kind of Springsteen way, I can’t deny how growing up there shaped me. Whether it’s the small houses on banks of hills or the ones that are falling over (#HometownBurn). And the city gets plenty of screen time in Minding The Gap, not as Keire Johnson, Zack Mulligan, and director Bing Liu go through their early twenties, but in loving GoPro shots taken while skateboarding through the streets and sidewalks. It’s these shots that start the movie off like most coming-of-age tales you see every few years.

If this were a movie, Liu would be an aspiring writer who’s simply too big for this small town and needs to go off and find themselves while the rest of his friend go off to work to death in the cancer mines. It’s what October Sky, Orange County, and 8 Mile have in common, as well as most stories just in general. In this case, Liu is the one in the group who couldn’t stop filming them. He even got a shot of them walking along rustic railroad tracks. But, along with them Spider-Man-ing on boards, we hear the statistics of current day Rockford and a glimpse into what many are going through. In fact, that’s the hook to get a teenager to check this out: it’s a skateboarding movie, but it shows the lives of the three of them, their immediate families, and their struggles to get by just out of high school.

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I feel the need to say that I’ve never dealt with the level of abuse Liu, Johnson or Mulligan or their family members talk about in the film, and I am fortunate for that fact. So, I can’t claim to identify completely with their childhoods. What Liu has captured really well are the moments of vivid and candid self-awareness they have when they address it, specifically with Zack and his girlfriend, Nina, discussing their cycle of domestic violence, and how it could affect their child. And as trapped as they are, the movie shows this as a result of not just their circumstances, but how they understand and navigate them day to day.

Liu makes no real judgments towards them. What he wants is to find answers, both from the abusers as to why they cause it, as well as how the victims feel. It’s why showing this to high schoolers can help them see what could be going on around them, and start them off with an unromantic idea of what’s coming up to prepare them now.

But, also, don’t skimp out on any of those coming-of-age movies. Personally, I liked Orange County, but it might not have aged well.

What To Watch After:

Since we’re talking about Rockfordians with dreams, a universal story, let’s end with this 1983 23 Action News piece about the rock band Puppet. Yes, they looks like KISS after earning a master’s degree. But, if they could lug all those keyboards from gig to gig in clown makeup, you sure as hell can start learning how to make a website tomorrow (consider yourself motivated).

Minding The Gap can be found on Hulu.

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