Uplifting films about kids discovering themselves through sport are not new, but this one takes on deeper significance thanks to its setting. Skater Girl is successful precisely because it's location-specific but has universal messages. Some of those messages may feel obvious -- of course girls deserve equal opportunities and to decide their own destinies -- but the setting gives them a new urgency. When Prerna, played by magnetic newcomer Rachel Saanchita Gupta, rides a skateboard for the first time, the way her eyes and face light up says it all. The freedom, the excitement, the fun she experiences is a complete novelty and wakes her up to a life of new possibilities. It's hard to imagine a film in any other context infusing quite so much meaning to riding a skateboard down a street. When her mother pulls Prerna's red wedding veil down over her face, it's symbolic of a shutting down of those possibilities, a closing off of her dreams, and it represents just how much she now has to lose.
This film isn't based on a true story, but it was inspired by similar ones. The Indian village is depicted as a place where unspoken rules of caste and gender discrimination still reign, but kids everywhere just want to play and explore. Prerna's brother Ankush (adorable Shafin Patel) embodies this innocence -- he's not yet burdened by the rules of society and doesn't fully understand or abide by them. He even puts on a nonviolent, pro-skating protest inspired by Gandhi. The village is decrepit -- houses with holes in the roofs and single beds kids must share, abandoned buildings -- but it has its own beauty that the camera captures in contrasting the luster of the local women's flowing, jewel-toned clothing against white-washed and sun-soaked stone edifices. The film isn't without flaws. Parts of the plot feel rushed to get from point to point, Jessica's story of searching for her roots doesn't feel fully resolved, the fairy godmother character deserved more development, and dialogues, particularly between the White characters, can feel a bit forced. But you'll easily forgive those flaws when you get caught up in the sweetness and positivity of this story.