Betty Season 1, Episode 1: “Key Party” Review – An Exhilarating Portrait of The Skate Kitchen In A New Light

Crystal Moselle’s HBO series premiere ‘Betty’ proves the importance of female skateboarders in an authentic and effortless way. 

HBO

With the world on pause, and the starving of boredom slowly creeping up during lockdown, everyone’s favorite television network HBO has us covered once again. Premiering with its latest must-see six-part series on Friday, Betty centers around the friendships, freedom, and the unbridled joy that encompasses a group of young female skateboarders on the streets of New York City. 

Created by Crystal Moselle, we first saw the freewheeling teens form together in Moselle’s 2018 skate collective feature, Skate Kitchen. Hailed and praised as a coming-of-age triumph that gave the narrative of women the effortless freedom to be themselves, Skate Kitchen, along with several members of the real-life skating sisterhood, highlighted not only the earnest and authentic appeal from a context that has a lifelike flow, but undoubtedly hurled thousands of other young women to pick up a board as well. Shot entirely during a vibrant New York City summer, skateboards weaving through the traffic, and a soundtrack that makes blinking in the sun and whipping your hair through the wind all the more inevitable, Skate Kitchen swiftly replicates the feelings of a teenager — executed in a such a beautiful and realistic way that it’s hard not to see yourself in the shoes of the girls as they talk about their music tastes, their sexuality, the clash of tampons vs pads, and even the argument of silliness that sprouts from the Mandela Effect. A small little detail that showers a sense of comfortability and laughter throughout the film: an ingredient so special that it manages to mix itself up in the world of Betty too. 

Following their everyday lives as they navigate their way across the male-dominated world of skateboarding, Betty (which comes from the mocking nickname in reference to girl skaters hanging out in the skate park) embarks on small-time adventures across New York; diving deep into the city’s subculture as the all-girl skate crew tackle life’s obstacles, discover crushes, and share joints through highly amusing conversations. Collectively accumulating the tone and essence of youth that bases itself around the kick-flips and laughs shared on the skate ramps, the first episode of Betty examines the fascinating sisterhood in all its cathartic glory.

As the music kicks in, the opening scene of Betty establishes immediately the sense of freedom that we’ll experience each week from the faces of a diverse group of five who are unbothered and unafraid while cruising down the traffic in Madison Avenue — a feeling of pure liberty and relief that beckons a message of home to thousands of people during the world’s current circumstances. Drenched in a visual style that is as compelling as its loosely constructed narrative, Betty pulls together a girl crew with distinctive ease. Kurt (Nina Moran) and Janay (Ardelia “Dede” Lovelace) set out separately to a skatepark on the Lower East Side — an area that screams freedom amongst its luminous setting – where they have arranged a social media “all-girl skate sesh.” Worried that their badly advertised calling didn’t go to plan, Kurt and Janay find Honeybear (Moonbear) carrying a camera and skating alone – reluctantly being the only one who showed up to the event. From then on, the episode explodes with a kick-flipping montage that blasts the visual style that made Skate Kitchen a cinematic success. Packed with an innumerable amount of coolness, dripping in color, ollie’s, and heelflips, for a second the electricity that pours itself into the skate park is so transporting you would almost believe you were there with them. 

Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) – the rebellious teen that battled out her restrictive mother to do the thing she loves most (skate) during Skate Kitchen – shows up alas, but is apart from the girls as she skates into the scene with a group of boys. Laughing after Kurt and Janay offer to let her skate with them, there’s an immediate change that accommodates the show in which the film didn’t. Storylines are shown to be tweaked and expanded in order to shine a light on more minor characters that were hidden on the sidelines during the 2018 feature. This, from what the trailer teased, is more so directed towards Honeybear and the exploration of her sexuality and anxiety throughout the series. Judging by the first episode’s events, there is no correlation between itself and the film that is even remotely emphasized — meaning the characters are no more than strangers to themselves and the others around them. And without a doubt make it effortlessly exciting to slowly see them grow into one effortlessly cool sisterhood. 

Once a sudden rainstorm clears the park, Betty carries on the same realistic tone as it’s opening. Swarming a store to keep their skateboards dry, the episode then starts to focus on Camille’s lost backpack — in which she left behind when in a hurry to get out of the sunny weather departure. Slowly bringing her into the orbit of the other girls, Kurt, Janay, and Honeybear take her side to hunt for her bag, and while searching meet Indigo (Ajani Russell) hanging out with drug dealer Farouk (Reza Nader). Parting ways to get high, in a van filled with fake Supreme t-shirts, Camille and Janay run around the streets of New York with “Find My iPhone” leading the way, as Kurt proceeds to flirt with Indigo in an attempt to teach her that skateboarding isn’t all about learning tricks – but simply about having fun.

Hanging around conversations that perpetuate nonsense, another visually crisp montage takes to our screens as A$AP Rocky’s ‘F**kin Problem’ takes the group of stoners to their feet and away from their skateboards. Across streets, Camille and Janay bustle the city, stressed yet shedding light on what slowly shows to be a good friendship; sharing air fans and the heat of the moment with laughs and personal stories on the little disturbances that have gradually taken a toll in their life. And yet so subtle, the first episode of Betty sheds light on how gender is unbalanced in relation to skateboarding but also in the existing world that as a young woman we must all be cautious about the nuanced burdens that come about our way. Addressing her soon-to-be friend’s situation, Camille outwardly states, “That’s why we have boards, so we don’t have to take the bus. We don’t have to talk to anybody, just hop on our boards and we’re out”, spreading awareness that having a skateboard can be more than a passion but a safety blanket that every girl should acquire. 

Betty is, from what the first episode has shown, a stripped-down, documentary-style portrait of young women’s lives coming together from just hanging out, and their shared love of skateboarding. With no stars or big set pieces, Moselle gives the spotlight to people playing fictitious versions of themselves in a show that’s built around their experience – an ongoing series that throughout each episode will make us question if they are even acting at all. Playing on main themes of friendship, identity, sexuality, equality, and freedom — Betty is first and foremost a show about being young and innocent. An exhilarating examination of a diverse sisterhood that will make you pick up a skateboard and join one yourself. 

 

Keli Williams

Keli Williams is a freelance writer based in Liverpool. She loves all things cinema and Paul Thomas Anderson. Bylines include The Simple Cinephile, Little White Lies, Girls on Tops, Screen Queens, and more. Follow her on twitter @kelionfilm and Letterboxd @beforesnrise

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