Life is like a sandy skatepark. Isn't that what Forrest Gump said? The ups. The downs. The curves. The steel rails. The hard knocks. The concrete rashes. The rush of adrenaline when you finally figure out a trick. The blow to your soul when you fall on your face.
Caleb already knows all about what life can dish out. Or at least he thinks he does. His dad's never been around. His mom drinks too much, works too much and cries too much. He can't seem to get a single art school to take an interest in him. But he's about to hit the wall in a way he never dreamed possible. Turns out his mom has cancer, and she's collapses into a coma—right after they get into a big fight.
His whole life is unraveling, so Caleb goes where he always goes when the going gets rough: the skatepark. And that's where he meets a guy who asks him to be part of a "skatedown" he and his buds are putting together. You win, you get sponsored, the guy says. It's that simple.
But it's not that simple. And Caleb doesn't know how to unravel the threads to sort it all out.
To quote another pop culture icon, this time a living one, "I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter/But my will gets weak/And my thoughts seem to scatter/But I think it's about forgiveness/Forgiveness." That Don Henley song pretty much sums up Hardflip. The difference is that this movie knows it's about forgiveness. It's about Caleb forgiving his mom for sometimes neglecting him. It's about his mom forgiving him for being an ungrateful jerk. It's about Caleb finding and learning to forgive his long-lost dad. It's about his dad forgiving himself for being so "young and stupid" when he walked away from Caleb and his mom.
Caleb's father, Jack Sanders, gets a grip on his own selfishness quickly here, extending to his son the olive branch of "I'm sorry" over and over again. Caleb has a hard time meeting him halfway at first, but he ultimately accepts Jack's heartfelt apologies.
Another major theme here is family—its value, its strength and the priority it deserves. Jack's right-hand man at his architectural firm says to him, "My family. They are the equation. They are everything." He's answering Jack's question about what's the most important thing to him, work or his son's baseball game. Jack brags that he's given up everything in life to get where he is in the business world. But as his heart begins to melt, he talks about how a father is supposed to take care of his family—exactly what he didn't do.
A homeless man says to the guys who are harassing him, "I forgive you." And it should be noted that Caleb helps the man pick up his things. Caleb's mom says to him, "I didn't end up with you. I had a choice, and I chose you. You were not a mistake." A good Samaritan of sorts shows up out of nowhere to encourage Caleb, letting him know that he understands his pain, and that there's someone he knows who wants to help him deal with it.
That someone is Jesus. Using stylized artwork on a skateboard, the word Truth on a T-shirt and the handwritten signs of a homeless man, the movie shows us that it's Christ who is King of the skatepark—and can be King of our hearts too.
The element of forgiveness that permeates the movie reaches into Christ's love for its source and power. In fact, Hardflip makes it clear that without God first forgiving us, we can't begin to forgive others. And it warns us, by way of Matthew 6:14-15, that "if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." The homeless man "preaches" on the "70x7" text found in Matthew 18. He holds up a sign that asks, "Is God good?" Caleb sees it and blurts out, "My mom's dead. How good could He be?" He cries out to God, "Did I do something to deserve this?"
When Caleb asks the homeless man why he "lives like this," the man responds, "It enables me to spread the Word of God." A preacher recites Scripture at a funeral, then prays in the name of the "Lord Jesus." Two men bounce these biblical lines back and forth between them: "Man, these kids, what's it going to benefit them if they gain the whole world and forfeit their own soul?" The movie concludes with 2 Corinthians 5:14, which reads, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
Circumspect references are made to Caleb's mom and dad conceiving him "in love." A woman wears a low-cut top.
A couple of guys manhandle the homeless man. Caleb and another skater get into a fight, with punches landing on faces and stomachs. That other skater, named Rider, also pushes, shoves and smacks guys in his "posse."
Caleb's mom slaps him across the face during an argument. Caleb tries to commit suicide, downing his mom's pills with gulps of liquor. A snippet of a song lyric screams, "You better stop or I'll shoot you right between the eyes/ … I never miss."
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see Caleb's mom drinking hard liquor from the bottle. As mentioned, Caleb drinks alcohol and takes prescription pills when he's depressed and trying to end it all. Beer shows up in the hands of other skaters at various times. Jack and a new girlfriend order wine with dinner.
Caleb's journey out of darkness of depression into the light of truth and love is partly symbolized by his "relationship" with marijuana. Early on, his mom finds a joint in his bedroom drawer, and they fight about it. Then we see him about to light another joint … just as a guy wearing a "Truth" T-shirt shows up to challenge his need for the weed. Still later, we see Caleb again trying to smoke, but he begins to cry instead, on the verge of spiritual repentance.
Drugs and money change hands in a clandestine street deal.
Other Negative Elements
The guys don't just skate at the park. Sometimes they rough up railings and walls on private property. (A cop nabs Caleb for trespassing and vandalism at one point.) Caleb and a new friend forge a check. A physician agrees to keep Caleb's suicide attempt a secret. We hear Caleb throwing up.
With music from Brian "Head" Welch and RED, Hardflip works hard to get the California skateboarding subculture just right.
It works even harder to get the Gospel message just right. Eschewing both the "plan of salvation" speech and the bowed-head symbolism for the conversion experience, the film chooses instead to let the skateboards do most of the talking. It's when Caleb accepts the gift of a new board that's painted with Jesus' face and emblazoned with the word Truth that we know he's opened the door of his heart to Christ.
Not that the Gospel message is too cool for school here. We see a close-up of a Scripture passage at one point, and the homeless man's signs present a Bible verse too. And when Caleb cracks open his mom's Bible, he finds a note inside from her saying that if he's reading it, then her prayers have been answered.