It took me several minutes into Sk8 Life to realize that the film wasn't a documentary about skateboarding but rather a narrative feature. Well, sort of. Most of the characters have the same names as the actors, who aren't actors but skateboarders portraying variations of themselves. If this doesn't make sense to you, imagine how I felt trying to puzzle it out while watching the movie. Fortunately, while I was trying to figure it out, I could watch lots of amazing skateboarding moves, which is the real attraction of Sk8 Life.
Sk8 Life, which was shot in Canada, is about a group of young skaters (the term used for people skilled on skateboards) who spend the summer trying to unite in filming a lot of challenging skateboard routines. Their leader is Kris (Kris Foley), who needs money to pay the steeply increased property taxes on his house, The Crash Pad, to avoid foreclosure. Everyone wants to save The Crash Pad because it's a place where skaters are welcome when they need a place to crash (thus the name), plus it has a big skateboard ramp in the backyard. Kris is hoping that the footage of the skaters can be sold for enough money to pay the taxes.
It isn't all Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland on skateboards, though. Some of the skaters are resentful of Kris getting money when they're the ones doing a lot of the skating, some may be harboring romantic feelings toward other skaters, some don't want to have to deal with the fuss of filming, they just want to do their skateboard thing. Actually, this does sound like a Rooney-Garland "let's put on a show" film, but without the interfering grownups. Many of the skaters are still in high school but we don't see parents, just the skaters and their interaction with one another.
The skateboard sequences are the highlight of the film. Perhaps to add some variety, some of the skating was animated. The graphics look great but the skateboard moves look so much more impressive when we see them performed live-action by the skaters in the movie. The animation could be faked but we know the live-action skaters are real, and that's what makes the skating so fascinating to watch. For example, one live-action scene showed a skater trying the same move, a skate down a stair rail, more than a dozen times until he succeeded. I was surprised he didn't sustain a head injury. On the other hand, one animated action scene did stand out, in which Kris chased his friend Pad through a park. I also liked the animated sequence that explains what "caps" are (metal brackets that cities often put on stair rails to prevent skaters from skateboarding on them) and the way in which skaters view a city.
Sk8 Life takes some time to warm up and hit its stride. One reason is that there are so many skaters in the film that it's difficult to keep track of which character is which. Kris is one of the more interesting skaters in the film because he's in his thirties and still trying to make a living from skating, as opposed to the high-school kids who are just staying at The Crash Pad for the summer. I also liked watching Miller, the only main character who was a female skater. We don't get much time with the characters who don't skate, like the screenwriter character and Kris's wife, so they tend to fall flat. The dialogue in Sk8 Life is a little too realistic -- it's stilted and often fails to maintain the viewer's interest. But the skateboarding scenes help keep the film from dragging and make Sk8 Life watchable.