Minding The Gap

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Minding The Gap - Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.
"Few artists are ever willing to let their audiences get this close to their unrevised selves." | Photo: Bing Liu

Whilst some films are near universal in their emotional impact, the effect of others depends very much on the viewer's own background. Minding The Gap is, by any standards, an impressive documentary, painstakingly assembled from 12 years' worth of footage to tell the story of three boys growing to adulthood in the inner city spaces of Rockford, Illinois. To some it seems to offer revelation, a compulsive insight into unexpected places. For many viewers, however, it will emerge simply a a picture of day to day life. If it wins empathy from the former group, that's great, but it feels much more as if it were made for the latter, encouraging them to look again at that life with a clearer view of the damaging patterns often found within it.

Why do these boys skate when it's so dangerous? one reviewer asks, looking for psychological depth in all the wrong places. Did it occur to him that it's fun? Sure, our young protagonists pick up a few cuts and bruises and the occasional nastier injury, but so do rugby players. They're equally skilful, even if they occasionally slip up - and what keen sports player doesn't? Part of the fun comes from taking on new challenges. That's necessary to find out where the edge is - and it's better to do that on a board than in other areas of life.

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Bing Liu's film opens with skateboarding, dynamically captured on a small, moving camera. It's not so much talent that catches the eye as the obvious thrills the boys find in it; the viewer becomes immersed in the action because they are. As they grow up, we stay with them, and careful editing keeps us so focused on the minutiae of life that, like the boys, we may initially miss the big picture. Events hit our protagonists like malicious strips of sidewalk. Zack has barely moved away from his parents when he has a kid of his own, and though he dreams of being a great father he can't handle his own frustrations, let alone a child's. He doesn't begin to understand those expressed by girlfriend Nina, and as both of them lash out verbally it becomes clear that that's not where this is going to stop. Kiere avoids this trap but still suffers from episodic rage, a legacy of abuse compounded by racism, taking it out in self-destructive acts which, whilst they might protect others, eat into his hopes of saving up and getting out, building a new life somewhere else.

Liu is on the edge of all this but not just a spectator. We are with him when he intervenes clumsily or fails to do anything at all; we are with him as he builds towards his own confrontation with the past. Few artists are ever willing to let their audiences get this close to their unrevised selves. Perhaps reassured by this, the others share their thoughts with equal candour, and though those thoughts are rarely deep, they're very human. We can easily come to feel as if these are people we know, forcing us to question our assumptions during the darker parts of the film, reminding us just how close to home violence and abuse reside.

There are many ways of interpreting the title of this film but among other things it seems to hint at the gap in perception between those who live in respectable areas and play respectable sports and keep their violence private, and those who find this life familiar, whose challenge lies in finding ways to break the cycle. To exoticise it is dangerous. It is honesty that gives this film its power and it behoves the viewer to be honest about its relevance, no matter how remote it may seem.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2019
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Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.

Director: Bing Liu

Year: 2018

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


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