Lords of Dogtown: A Movie Review. You Like Movies, Right?

Jun 23, 2005

If you check out this movie expecting to see a bunch of fancy skating tricks set to an awesome punk soundtrack, you'll be sorely disappointed. But if, like many people, you've wondered how Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva went on to achieve wildly successful fame and fortune, while Jay Adams, of equal or better skating ability, ended up in relative poverty and obscurity, this movie will answer your question. This film is a funny, personal, and symbolic movie about the formation of the Z-Boys and of the relationships between three main players: Stacy, Jay and Tony. Within the story line lies an interesting history of skateboarding, its innovation and its transition into popular culture.

The fact is that someone as angry as Jay Adams, due largely to a bleak home life, was simply not capable of putting on a happy face and doing a monkey's dance for a bunch of sponsors. In some ways this movie is about fate, and how some people cannot choose their path due to their environment or mental state. This movie doesn't present a Hollywood ending, where the man who needs it the most rises up from the gutter to achieve great stardom - because that's not usually how life is. Instead, it's an honest story about the choices these people made early on in life, and how those choices affected them throughout their lives.

There seemed to me to be another theme in the movie as well. When Stacy and Tony are criss-crossing the world in support of their skating fame, Jay continues to skate the old stomping grounds, because that's what he has chosen. There's this moment where he skates off the pier and falls what looks like fifty feet into the ocean. While this can also be seen as him saying "fuck it" to everything - opportunity and hope - it is also a beautiful expression of freedom. When I saw this scene, it seemed to me that Stacy and Tony, in their frenetic touring, were missing out on moments like that. They couldn't take much time out to surf or skate for fun during the promotional tours. While Jay clearly made some terrible decisions later in life, if nothing else, he was at least free and true to himself.

Stacy is the overall winner in the movie, as the most levelheaded, well-adjusted, and likeable skater, though it costs him other things. Tony comes across as a total dick, so much that he comes across like a caricature. The only exception is in one scene where there is a glimpse of something else at work, behind that phenomenal ego. After a debilitating injury, he breaks down to his Dad that he doesn't want to end up digging ditches, which hints at fear and racial issues at work behind that fancy car and Evel Knievel outfit. Finally, we get something real from this character.

The dialogue and interactions between the characters seemed right in line with adolescent boys from that era. The director didn't try to make them seem like good guys, but presented them as real teenagers who could simultaneously be both assholes and nice people. Like real people. And their teenage hijinx are hilarious, even if you find yourself saying, "That was messed up!"

The only thing that distracted me was the soundtrack at times, though I was glad the songs stayed accurate to the era. I think the music could have been better had all of the songs been originals instead of remakes. The few modern covers of seventies' songs seemed unnecessary, since they weren't better then the originals, especially the cover of Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown." I did love the original Jimi Hendrix song "Fire" used in a scene where Jay dances around a girl he wants, building up her desire like raising fire. That was awesome.

The theme of fate was seen again towards the end when the three skaters were swooping around their sick friend in his empty pool. It was like the fate of these three people, equal in this one place but not the rest of the world, all circling around their dying friend who symbolizes what is really important, and the things in life that can't be changed. And that one thing brings them together briefly, before they are separated again by their different choices.

Needless to say, I loved this movie. It didn't have the annoying Hollywood plotlines, overblown drama or modern pop-punk soundtrack that I was partially expecting. This is probably due to the fact that Stacy Peralta wrote the script, so that the dialogue, events and music came across as down to earth and real. This movie made me think and affected me beyond my expectations.