XIPHOS AND THE QUICK AND DIRTY HIT #6 VISION QUEST
My apologies to Conti. I said I was going to review Hooper as the next installment in this series until Jarv made reference to Mathew Modine in his Married To The Mob review and the light bulb went off. This movie is stretching the new direction of this series since I was about 16 when Vision Quest hit and that’s really on the far side of being a movie that would have a lot of impact on my fragile eggshell mind. The thing is though, I was a high school wrestler and this movie came out during wrestling season and was a big hit with the team and with anybody I have met that wrestled. Also I had read the book the movie was based on twice before, once in 1980 then again just before the start of the wrestling season in 1983ish, so I think by combining both movie and book it just barely meets the criteria for this series. The book is an excellent coming of age story that Catcher In the Rye wished it was. FYI, I will be referring to the book some while reviewing the movie so this is really a twofer review. This combined approach gave me an idea for another series: good movie adaptations of books. There are some believe it or not. I will have to investigate that idea further.
Like The Flamingo Kid, 1985’s Vision Quest is another entry on the list of underrated and unappreciated coming of age stories. The movie focuses on Louden Swain, an 18 year old high school senior in Spokane, Washington. He’s a wrestler who had won a surprising state championship in the 168 pound weight class the season before. Swain’s victory was a surprise since the movie version had Louden starting wrestling late, in his sophomore year. Louden, being a second semester senior now, is restless and thinking about the future, looking to make his mark on the world right now. In order to achieve that goal, Louden decides to drop two weight classes and take on the monstrous and scary state champion at the 148 pound weight class, a dude called Shute. Shute is the movie’s metaphorical white whale. In the book Louden and Shute are friends from wrestling camp and pee wees and the like. Shute, in the book, is like Louden, a good guy and a hell of a wrestler. The movie version morphs him into a semi-bad guy for the purpose of injecting conflict into the adaptation. It works.
Vision Quest focuses on Louden’s quest to make weight and take on Shute. The movie also deals with the affect that Louden’s quest has on himself mentally, physically and emotionally and on those around around him. Especially with his burgeoning love life with the feisty Carla, played by the delectable Linda Fiorentino. Carla is a few years older than Louden and is an artist on her way from New Jersey to San Francisco when her car breaks down and she winds up at Louden’s father’s garage. Louden’s dad is played by the excellent character actor Ronny Cox, who takes pity on Carla and invites her to stay at their house. Thanks dad, that’s one hell of a distraction to put in front of an 18 year old boy training to reach his dream. The movie is typical in that love, not lust, pops up between the leads almost overnight. In the book Carla had been living with the Swains for awhile and the love grew at a more sedate and natural pace but a movie only has two hours to do its job so out comes the montage to show the growing relationship.
The acting across the board in Vision Quest is just phenomenal. Outside of Pvt. Joker, Modine has never been more full of life and fantastic acting than the work he does in Vision Quest. Modine is in virtually every scene and is compelling and entirely watchable. Linda Fiorentino strikes just the right note as the hot but smart and classy Carla who could easily have found a comfortable life in Spokane but made a choice for herself and for Louden that was good for both of them. Ronny Cox (Man, can this guy not turn in great work?) is perfection as Louden’s father. At first I thought how can this guy be a mechanic? But as his back story is revealed you totally buy into the character created by Ronny Cox. All the other actors did believable work as students, teachers and friends. The other person that needs to singled out for doing a top flight job Michael Schoeffling.
Schoeffling (Jake Ryan from 16 Candles) plays Kuch, a teammate and friend of Louden. Kuch is the character that is used to represent kids with rough home lives and the kids trying to find their place in the world by trying on different personas to achieve that end. Kuch pretends to be half Native American and turns Louden onto the idea of a vision quest which is really what Louden is doing with his obsession to wrestle Shute. Schoeffling was remarkable as the kid who lost his spot to Swain, doesn’t have Swain’s smarts, skills, work ethic and stable home life. I am always amazed at the quality of acting done by Schoeffling in this movie. Based on this role alone I would say he had a bright future but according to IMDB the last gig he had was in 1991. Now he owns a custom furniture shop in Pennsylvania.
The last reason why Vision Quest is a tremendous movie is that it’s able to transcend its “pedestrian” roots as a “sports movie” and is able to translate, from the book, its hard core believability. The world Louden Swain inhabits in the book and movie feels entirely real, it’s outside your door right now. The movie, like the book, was able to to create likable authentic characters that you care about and recognize as being genuine. For me it’s a highly commendable achievement that they were able to craft such an outstanding movie from what amounts to a snapshot of a few months of a young man’s life. I highly recommend this movie.
PS I am also endorsing the book even though it’s considered a “teen” book. It’s a well written story considering it’s the author’s first book. Vision Quest is a fictionalized story of the author’s life as a HS wrestler in Spokane in the 70’s. There is nothing earth shattering or revelatory, it’s just one of the best coming of age stories I have ever read and is universal in its themes. I also really enjoyed how the author chose to end the book, it’s truly non-traditional.