Thursday, May 28, 2009

Movies Christian Loves, But Shouldn't #1: Vision Quest

A couple of weeks ago, Nancy Rommelmann -- who put this interesting piece on a question of journalistic ethics up Tuesday -- had a post on her blog asking her readers to post links to songs they should hate, but find immensely enjoyable. Naturally, this prompted me to post a Rick Roll in the comments section. I did this for three reasons. For the fun of it, because the post was essentially begging me to, and because it genuinely is a song that always gets me to do the embarrassing "sway the arms while driving" dance. Her post also prompted me to check out the new Tinted Windows "supergroup" CD, which I have found I enjoy in that Oneders kind of way. Tinted Windows is fronted by Taylor Hanson, of Hanson fame, so I should despise them -- but I find my mp3 player playing a disproportionate number of songs from the album.

Needless to say, Rommelmann's post reminded me of one of the two songs that I truly cannot turn away from -- John Waite's Change -- and the film that contains the scene that always jumps to the forefront of my mind when I hear the song.

Excuse me, I'll be right back. I have to work out before I finish this post.

Click the second link in the above paragraph to watch the scene while I jump rope for two minutes.


Now that you have clicked the last link, you know that John Waite's Change reminds me of the film Vision Quest. If someone were to describe the plot of the film to me in order to see if I would be interested in watching it with them, they'd have to wake me up a couple of seconds after they began their synopsis. The story is the typical coming of age high school male story that usually leaves me cold. Very rarely do they touch upon anything I find meaningful. I usually find the protagonists alien and the world they come from foreign.

Take White Water Summer, starring Sean Astin, as an example. I'm supposed to sympathize with Astin's character, and the fact that I like the actor should make this easy, but I never have. I see Astin's "city kid forced to endure the tyranny of a psychopathic camping enthusiast" as a lying cheating wuss. I always root for Kevin Bacon, who plays the mentally unstable youth counselor. Astin's character just needs to suck it up. And don't even get me going on how The Karate Kid's Daniel-san deserves every Karate kick to the gut he gets after he lied about knowing the martial arts. If you lie to be cool, you'd better be willing to face the consequences -- even if they mean your leg gets swept.

Vision Quest is the tale of Louden Swain (Matthew Modine) who decides to attempt an impossible task. He decides to leave his wrestling weight class, where he is likely the best wrestler in Washington state, to go down two weight classes and wrestle an inhuman wrestling machine named Shute. Shute is so inhuman that his workout regimen includes carrying a massive log on his back while he walks up and down every step of a college football stadium. It is a boring and predictable plot that we've seen done better in the classic Breaking Away where the actions of the protagonist speak for the frustrations of an entire socio-economic sub-culture. Swain isn't a proxy for the frustrations of blue collar Americans who have watched their hopes and dreams disappear as the economy has made the trades of their parents -- and what their future might have been -- obsolete. Swain's character lacks that depth, so I should hate the film.

But I don't. I own the DVD, and whenever Vision Quest is on cable I am compelled to watch. In the case of Vision Quest, it isn't the story that keeps me coming back, it is the characters. Louden Swain was one of the first characters I saw that seemed like a real person to me. When he talked about why he did one thing or another, it made sense and Matthew Modine's performance captured the sense of confusion I felt throughout my teen years.

Then there's Linda Fiorentino. I'd like to take a moment to thank the movies of the '80s for bringing Linda Fiorentino to the big screen. Her performances in Vision Quest and Gotcha! are two of the sexiest performances I have ever seen in film. The 14 year-old boy I was when I saw this movie quickly learned how powerful teenage hormones can be, and he had Linda Fiorentino to thank. This isn't to say that Fiorentino's performance is all "beauty" and no substance, it is the enigmatic depth of her character that makes her so appealing. Here is a women who simultaneously displays interest and disdain, certainty and confusion, naiveté and experience. She's quite a character, and leaves a lasting impression on any viewer.

Even the films minor characters leave lasting impressions. From Daphne Zuniga's performance as the plucky young editor of the school newspaper to Michael Schoeffling's performance as Kuch, one gets a sense of having met real people when the film has ended. When I saw Gross Anatomy years later, it was easy to imagine that the Matthew Modine and Daphne Zuniga characters were the same people from Vision Quest four years later. It should be noted that Zuniga's cute and quirky performance in this film so impressed the 14 year-old me that it is she who I have had a crush on ever since and not Linda Fiorentino. Yes, Fiorentino is a sexual force on the screen, but Zuniga is who I wanted to date.

Even though I should hate it, I can think of far worse things to do with 90 minutes than watch Vision Quest.

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