Hulu’s Oscar-nominated Minding The Gap may be one of the most genuine and human documentaries of recent times. Bing Liu’s film has been shot over the course of 12 years as he grows up with his friends Zack and Keire, all of whom have experienced trauma in their youth and found solace through their shared love of skateboarding.
This film is so much more than it appears. You’d be forgiven for overstating the importance of the skateboarding in Bing’s film, when in reality it is simply the means with which these three young men have been brought together. What Minding The Gap is really interested in is precisely why they needed each other in the first place, and it touches on a great many important themes including; poverty, adolescence, unemployment, emotional and physical abuse, parenthood, family and, perhaps most importantly of all, toxic masculinity.
Bing, Zack and Keire are all finding growing up extremely difficult as they mature into the adults we get to know, for reasons that become apparent as it all plays out. They open up in brutally honest and emotional ways that impact the viewer greatly and leave a great deal to ponder.
It’s Bing’s personal connection to what is essentially an autobiographical film that makes it so special. It’s impossible to imagine how any other filmmaker could’ve carried out such intimate conversations with their subjects, but Bing’s willingness to engage with his friends, and also discuss his own upbringing so openly, creates something so unique and powerful that it simply could not have been replicated by anybody else.
It’s in these moments of self-reflection that the film finds its power, but the standout moments come from the fly-on-the-wall perspective we are given as we see the people live their day-to-day lives, much of which is extremely difficult to watch. The film isn’t forcing its message to the viewer, choosing to simply invite them into their lives and see things the way they are. What we take away from it is almost entirely up to us, and it would be impossible to come away from Minding The Gap not feeling something.
Despite the film’s tough subject matter, it ends with a strong and uplifting feeling of hope. Perhaps that’s the result of Bing, Zack and Keire, all of whom display a great deal of maturity and emotional intelligence throughout, in spite of everything they’re discussing.
The skating sequences look terrific, but the film’s strongest asset is its intimate and personal look at adolescence, through the eyes of three young men dealing with a great deal of trauma, growing up in the desolate town of Rockford, Illinois. It naturally creates a feeling the likes of which Boyhood could only dream of fabricating, as it gets to grips with why it is these friends need each other and why exactly they find skating such an effective escape from reality.
It’s a powerful reminder of what’s important in life, and a story capable of connecting to each and every viewer in some way. Minding The Gap is the kind of relatable documentary that is so incredibly rare; a real story presented in the only way its director knew how. It will be interesting to see what Bing Liu goes on to create, but there is no doubt that his debut is something truly special.
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