Minding the Gap initially recalls historical skateboarding films like Dogtown and Z-Boys and This Ain’t California, as well as more experiential docs such as Dragonslayer and Only the Young. And for a while, Minding the Gap appears to be just another film about young people with uncertain futures, coming of age in poor communities, and struggling to further the cycle of the working-class existence. Liu follows Zack and Nina in their lives as parents and their paycheck-to-paycheck jobs as a roofer and bar waitress, respectively. He chronicles Keire in his first employment, as a dishwasher, while living at home with his mom. He engages with Zack directly, captures Nina’s testimonials about him, interviews Keire’s mother. These are detailed personal portraits of his subjects and friends.
Slowly, Bing Liu as a character starts to seep into the picture. The first time we realize Minding the Gap is also an autobiographical film is when Liu casually interviews a local skate shop owner and the conversation is mostly about what an introverted kid the unseen interviewer was. "I distinctly remember asking if you were gay," the man behind the counter says. "I knew you had some huge weight on you." More is revealed about Liu when he interviews his half-brother and they take a tour of the childhood home the budding filmmaker has long since moved out of.
Unlike most first-person documentaries, this one doesn’t feature voiceover narration from its director. Because Liu as a character manifests so subtly, he’s the most intriguing. We assume that, in contrast with Zack and Keire, Liu has escaped life in the financially depressed city of Rockford, Illinois, for maybe college and pursuit of a career. But we don’t hear of, let alone see, him going off and earning a degree or serving, as he has, on the crews of Hollywood movies and series such as Jupiter Ascending and Shameless.