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This Boy’s Life: Vision Quest

May 15, 2010

I reckon I'm gonna win this thing.

Filmmaker Harold Becker is an odd duck – wonderful artist saddled with a resume suggesting otherwise. His filmography includes:

  • Malice – ill conceived, soggy thriller starting Nicole Kidman, Bebe Nuwirth and a painfully miscast Alec Baldwin in a role that seems like he was asked to play an actor doing a collection of impressions of previous Baldwin roles.
  • Sea of Love – Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin in a psychological thriller and the shit still didn’t work.
  • Mercury Rising – Weirdly paced, paint by numbers Bruce Willis thriller.

Becker’s gems include: Taps and the 1985 classic coming of age story Vision Quest, based on the novel by Terry Davis.

Vision Quest is the kind of coming of age film rarely made anymore. The protagonist is not noble, not completely likable, not middle class and definitely not “going somewhere”. Louden Swain – played by a far too aged Matthew Modine, though quite good – is an eighteen year old guy consumed by two things: getting a lady and getting down to 168 lbs in order to wrestle the most imposing figure in division – Brian Shute.

Unlike many of Becker’s films, the story, plot and pacing is really great. The best kind of storytelling – as far as films go – involves scenes which answer the question, “And then this happened!” meaning, what comes before must inform what happens next (in linear storytelling). Moreover, the secondary characters are integral to the conflict and not merely used as plot contrivances. Swain is a working class kid who wants college and like many other working class kids sees two options: military or sports. What I really love about this film is how his story, class status and life prospects are not romanticized nor are used as the driving force for the plot either.

Of course there are just flat out cool things unrelated to the astute class analysis:

  • Young Forrest Whitaker
  • Michael “Jake Ryan” Schoeffling in a decidedly non Jake Ryan role.
  • Madonna’s cool song Crazy For You
  • Harold Sylvester, the first African American to receive an athletic scholarship to Tulane (Basketball)

Speaking of Harold Sylvester, he is well cast as Mr. Tanneran, Swain’s confidante and English Teacher. The chemistry between the two characters is wonderful, particularly when strained by the introduction to the love interest Carla, a drifter (of course) – played by Linda Fiorentino, who steals most of the scenes with her deadpan delivery of such lines as, “I’m 21. I’ve been 21 since I was 14.”

Louden crushes on Carla and she’s crushing on life, specifically moving to San Francisco and being an artist. Becker did something interesting opting not to adapt many aspects of Carla’s story from the novel thus making her character far more complex. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say it’s definitely a welcome change from many depictions of women in 1980s coming of age films.

This is not a Rocky or The Karate Kid, but if you like those kinds of triumph of the human spirit via sports this is one of the better ones.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. evmaroon permalink
    May 15, 2010 5:38 pm

    OMG, is this movie like American Anthem?? I love me some teenage athlete movies!

  2. May 15, 2010 6:23 pm

    Yes, but a lot less gay, unfortunately, which is surprising given the subject matter.

  3. May 15, 2010 6:35 pm

    I couldn’t resist the opportunity to link to Pony Up!’s Matthew Modine

  4. May 15, 2010 6:37 pm

    That song was my song for an entire summer. I just sang 80% of it to babbycakes.

  5. May 15, 2010 6:38 pm

    But she didn’t do the Electric Slide to it 😦

  6. May 15, 2010 6:47 pm

    Oh, I loved this movie. I thought it was kind of cheesy in a good way. Matthew Modine cracked me up because he was so clearly not 18.

    There’s this optometrist’s office in a nearby town called “Vision Quest”. It makes me LOL every time I see it. Because the phrase “vision quest” invites so many snarky uses.

  7. May 16, 2010 10:32 am

    Ha. The soundtrack, which I failed to mention, is pretty cheesy, even for then. Still, I can’t help but hear “Lunatic Fringe” by Don Henley or whoever did that song and get totally pumped for whatever activity I’m fixing to do, be it taking out the trash or working out.

  8. hsofia permalink
    May 16, 2010 10:55 am

    Haha, Modine looks like he’s almost 30 years old in this; I think he must be one of those people who looks preternaturally mature for his age, and then when he finally gets to the age he looks, he stays looking youthful until he’s 75, and then suddenly he’ll shrivel up like a raisin. I like him; he’s thoughtful and interesting. Have you read Full Metal Jacket Diary? Plus, he’s been married to the same woman for a billion years (and she has afro-hair!). I give thumbs up to Matthew Modine.

  9. May 16, 2010 11:46 am

    hsofia – Oh yes. I love his Full Metal Jacket Diary. That’s how I figured out he was pretty old when he filmed Vision Quest. He’s been with Cari for like eleventy billion years! It’s pretty funny to watch him portray someone younger than Linda F, when it’s pretty clear he was significantly older than she was!

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