15, wrestling was not my thing. Singlets and those lace-up shoes that
looked like ballet shoes seemed like a silly way to spend two hours of
my then-still-short life.
However, pretty girls and rock music were an easy sell. Definitely worth
$6.50 at the Showcase Cinemas in Pontiac, Michigan, a few miles from
where I grew up.
Vision Quest, even two and a half decades later, is about a lot more
than pretty girls and rock music. It's about more than wrestling, for
that matter. It's about the teenage desire to live a life with meaning,
even for a moment, and about the ambition that small-town reality tries
to put in a headlock and pin before it has a chance.
Based on Terry Davis's solid 1979 novel, the story is simple enough:
Louden Swain, played by Matthew Modine, is a high school wrestler in
Spokane who decides to wrestle the state champion. He wants more from
life than what his father and his teachers have. He wants greatness, not
the usual. He wants to know that he has it inside himself to be
something. In short, he's Holden Caulfield in a singlet.
And he wants a woman, not a girl. Of course, the woman arrives, in the
form of Carla, a mysterious and beautiful drifter, played by Linda
Fiorentino, who rents a room at the Swain house. And we're off.
hits a good balance of awkwardness and pretention as Louden, and
Fiorentino is able to overcome some hellacious hair to still look
thoroughly smokin' hot. How many of us sat at home wondering if it's
true that a pair of good-looking hands will get us a woman like that?
Michael Schoeffling, fresh off of playing Jake Ryan in
Sixteen Candles, provides needed
doses of comic relief as Kuch, Louden's simpleton sidekick. As does
Elmo, the line cook played by J.C. Quinn, who gives a memorable
monologue about a soccer game in a faraway land that, for obvious
reasons, resonated with me.
But Vision Quest isn't a coming-of-age chucklefest like Can't Buy Me Love
and Weird Science. It's a gritty, emotionally honest movie whose texture
and authenticity set it apart from its teen-flick contemporaries in the
same way The Outsiders was different than Risky Business.
The other differentiating factor that made Vision Quest hum was an
unstoppable soundtrack. All killer and no filler. Tunes that would go on
to be 80s classics from Journey, Red Rider, Sammy Hagar, John Waite, Dio
and of course Madonna in her first screen appearance singing "Gambler"
and "Crazy For You."
Ultimately, Vision Quest lacked the full-throttle 80s polish and angst to
make it as timeless as Say Anything or
The Breakfast Club (the wrestling
probably didn't help). But it did resonate. It's not really a sports
movie although sports provides the inevitable crescendo. Instead, it's
the right combination of good music, small-town authenticity and
understated acting that makes it worthwhile.