As of late, the Criterion Collection has begun inducting Netflix original films into their esteemed catalog, issuing their streaming titles on Blu-ray discs crammed with exclusive bonus features and lavish packaging. And it isn’t as if these already widely available movies aren’t worthy of the VIP treatment: The Irishman, Roma and Marriage Story are among the most talked-about and beloved films of the past several years, so it’s no surprise the folks at Criterion would want to add them to their formidable pantheon. Director Bing Liu’s documentary Minding the Gap debuted on Hulu in 2018 — a platform whose original movies don’t garner an iota of the accolades of Netflix’s prestige titles — and despite being nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards, it remains relatively underseen. Hopefully, this new Criterion edition will attract new viewers, as Minding the Gap is every bit as impressive and emotionally searing as any of those aforementioned Netflix releases.
Like so many great documentaries, Minding the Gap feels as if Liu’s patience, raw filmmaking talent and unbelievable circumstances from his life all collided by sheer chance to create one remarkable story that begins as a study of skateboarding and teenage frustration in the recession-ravaged town of Rockford, Illinois and gradually evolves into a character study on the cyclical nature of domestic abuse. The film follows Liu and his two best friends, Zack and Keire, who have each found an escape from the bleakness of their home lives through skateboarding. We gradually learn that all three suffered continual physical abuse from one or more father figures during their childhoods, and those lingering wounds are still as fresh as ever. In fact, in the case of the hard-drinking and volatile Zack, those wounds can manifest themselves in ways that only lead to more violence.
This probably makes Minding the Gap sound like 93 minutes in child-abuse hell. Thankfully, while the subject matter Liu explores is indeed harrowing, the actual movie is just hugely cathartic. Liu never once chooses to wallow in the details of what happened to him and his friends; he instead makes his documentary about their journeys towards self-fulfillment. Each of them are nearing a pivotal crossroads that will determine the rest of their lives: either they manage to make some sort of peace with their horrific upbringings or else their traumas might consume them. The fact that Minding the Gap exists in the first place is an obvious indication that there’s plenty of hope waiting at the end of that road.
The Criterion edition includes an all-new high-definition transfer that renders the movie’s gorgeous skateboarding sequences (all shot by Liu) even more breathtaking than before. Those who felt as attached to Liu, Zack and Keire as I did by the end will be delighted to see there’s also an exclusive audio commentary featuring all three. Further extras include four deleted scenes, several interview featurettes (including one between Liu and Tony Hawk), and Liu’s 2010 narrative short Nước, which details two Vietnamese immigrants coming of age in America.