A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Minding the Gap is an Oscar-nominated documentary made by one of three skateboarding friends about their friendship and the way coming from abusive homes brought and kept them together. Filmmaker Bing Liu observes and interviews his friends with a delicacy and sensitivity that make the trio compelling and their struggles seem both relatable and, sadly, preventable. Language, including "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," and the "N" word, is used freely throughout. Depression, hopelessness, financial woes, and aimlessness are constant undertones, even as the protagonists party and joyfully display their skateboarding skills. Tobacco and alcohol are consumed. The guys enjoy getting drunk and high. One youth struggles with alcohol abuse. A teenaged couple live together and have a child. One boy describes finding his father's "vintage porn" stashed in a closet.
What's the story?
Opening scenes glorifying the soaring beauty of great skateboarders rolling and flying through empty streets give the impression that MINDING THE GAP will be about the glories and freedom of the skateboarder's life. But director and cinematographer Bing Liu, one of a trio of lifelong skateboarding friends, soon makes it clear that in his quiet, unassuming way he aims to heal the wounds of his abusive childhood and, to the extent possible, help do the same for his equally-wounded friends, struggling in the economically-decimated town of Rockford, Illinois. From ages 12 to 18, the kids skateboarded passionately, but as they aged, they each began to recognize the ways in which they were stuck. The causes were various. None had parents able to guide them through their struggles. School seemed to play no role in their lives. Now Zack is a roofer who drinks too much, with a child on the way and no real plan for raising him. Keire becomes a dishwasher. Bing seems most self-aware, driven, and determined. He constantly has his camera trained on his friends but as he grows older he poses more pointed questions for them about the ways in which they are still negatively affected by the horrors of their childhoods. Each of them felt unprotected and even abandoned by parents, leading them to create a "family" of their own with each other.
Is it any good?
Director Bing Liu's film is a love letter to friendship and to the skateboarding that he feels saved his sanity as he endured childhood abuse at the hands of his mother's sadistic husband. When he asks on camera why it took her so long to get out of the abusive 17-year relationship, and why she didn't protect Bing from the abuser, she's contrite and admits she didn't want to be alone. And so Minding the Gap explains to us the fundamental reality that everyone has his or her reasons, even for doing terrible things.
Teens viewers whose parental experiences are not as traumatic may be shocked, but will probably appreciate their own good fortune. And those who see themselves in Bing, Zack and Keire -- kids for whom calling the cops to negotiate family disputes is an ordinary event -- may feel less alone. Parents may feel that frequent references to violence at home, and the use of street language, marijuana, and alcohol, may make this inappropriate for tweens and young teens. That such abusive patterns may be repeated by abuse victims on their own children and spouses is unflinchingly clear in scenes that describe Zack's depression and hopelessness and his unlucky child. His almost-obsessive use of curse words suggests his struggle to find words that express his pain and confusion. One of the film's most jarring moments comes when Keire recalls being "disciplined" by his father and matter-of-factly notes, "They call it child abuse now."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way in which a lack of competent parenting can cause lifelong problems in Minding the Gap. In what ways did the struggles of the boys' parents negatively affect their lives?
Of the three friends, Bing seems to understand most clearly what having an abusive parent did to him. What do you think of the way he deals with that knowledge? Do you think his awareness helped his friends recognize what happened to them in their childhoods?
Bing elicits brutal on-camera honesty from his friends. How do you think he achieves this?
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