It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
We think we know the story pretty well already: Young wrestler has two dreams: (a) to win the state championship, and (b) to win the love of a girl. The defending state champion is a man-mountain who carries telephone poles to the top of stadiums. The girl is an independent drifter who is 20 years old and doesn't take the hero seriously. By the end of the movie, the only suspense is whether it will end with a victory in bed or in the ring.
Although "Vision Quest" sticks pretty close to that outline, it is nevertheless a movie with some nice surprises, mostly because it takes the time to create some interesting characters. The movie's hero, Louden Swain, is probably the closest thing to a standard movie character, but Matthew Modine plays him with such an ingratiating freshness that he makes the character quirky and interesting, almost in spite of the script.
The other people in the movie are all real originals. They include Louden's father (Ronny Cox), who has lost the family farm and his wife, but still retains the respect of his son; Louden's best pal (Michael Schoeffling), who bills himself as a "half-Indian spiritual adviser;" a black history teacher (Harold Sylvester) who cares about Louden and listens to him; an alcoholic short-order cook (J. C. Quinn) who works in the kitchen of the hotel where Louden's a bellboy and a wrestling coach (Charles Hallahan) who has mixed feelings about Louden's drive to get down to the 168-pound class so he can wrestle the toughest wrestler in the state.
All of those characters are written, directed and acted just a little differently than we might expect; they have small roles, but they don't think small thoughts.