Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams, Tom Brady; every sport has a figure everyone around the world can say they know, even if they have no knowledge of the sport in the first place. When it comes to skateboarding, it’s undeniable that Tony Hawk is that recognizable figure. Though the world knows his name and face, too many people don’t know the story of how he became the legend he is today. It’s easy to think he had an easy ride on his way to the top, but this new documentary shows the troubled soul that fought and scratched his way through life.
Opening on failure after failure of Hawk trying to land his infamous 900 again, it’s clear you’re watching the pain and suffering of a perfectionist. A man who won’t quit, and won’t let anything stop him from achieving his goals. In many ways, you can call is stubbornness. And that is in many ways the story of Tony’s life. He was a stubborn a child, a stubborn teenager, and so on. Turning that stubbornness into a tolerable and solid life didn’t come quick and easy.
Finding his place among his peers was difficult. And by peers, we’re talking about skaters on a certain level, not necessarily in age. Tony was the young whipper snapper who had a lot prove and never really seemed to show that special spark other skaters looked to as revolutionary or brilliant. Even his family never seemed to understand the inner workings of the young Tony Hawk. They saw a little rude, bratty, unhinged kid until skating came along and even when it did, it didn’t solve his problems immediately. But it all propped up the idea that he had something to prove to people, and he wouldn’t stop till he could.
Maybe it’s the archival footage, the subject matter, or the appearance of some of skating’s most notable figures; but Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off feels very similar to Stacy Peralta’s Dog Town and Z-Boys. Peralta of course being a major player in the revolution of skate boarding and the man who brough Tony Hawk into his first skate crew should be the man you template your film after. And the similarities between the stylings of the two films is in no way a bad thing, but it’s hard not to notice. Until the Wheels Fall Off does have its own visual flare that takes a keen eye to present. Some of it is luck, and some of it is presence of mind, but landing on that final shot of Tony’s board as it flipped over with the wheels continuously spinning as the birdman lays huddled in pain after missing another 900 landing to open the film is pure brilliance.
It’s fascinating to watch the crème de la crème of skate boarding reminisce about the past, present, and future of Tony’s life. You might expect it to be all glowing memories and praise, but that’s not what you’re going to get. You’re getting honest opinions of people who have spent their entire lives sticking their noses up and middle fingers out to doing things the way the world wants them to do it. But the most glorious words comes from Rodney Mullen–a skater who really needs to be more well known to the general public–as he poetically puts every piece of Tony Hawk into a few perfectly formed sentences, including giving you the title of the film.
Where this dissection of a sporting icon fails is when it gets into the later years of his life. You can only present so much to an audience if your subject is only willing to tell you so much, but when it comes to themes of addiction, infidelity, mental health, Until the Wheels Fall Off just breezes by with little to know background information. Just because you’re running into the 2 hour mark of your movie doesn’t mean you cut short a clearly important part of the story. I don’t need or want you to air the man’s dirty laundry to the world. But if you’re just going to glance by it and accept the viewer to accept is all with a grain of salt– that’s a disservice to your craft.
When it comes down to it, even with those short comings, Until the Wheels Fall Off shows you the inner workings of a public figure like few other films have ever done. That alone should make it an interesting watch for even those who could care less about skate boards and the people who ride them.
Final Grade: B
Here’s the trailer of the film.