Review: ‘Quest’ Is a good Moving Portrait of an American Family


Barack Obama isn’t the main topic of “Quest,” Jonathan Olshefski’s new documentary, a romantic and individual portrait of a North Philadelphia family. But the film, which commences and ends with presidential elections – Mr. Obama’s in 2008 and his successor’s eight years after – is shadowed, in a few methods haunted, by his presence and his temperament. At one point, he appears on television, in the wake of the massacre of college kids and their teachers in Newtown, Conn. “These neighborhoods will be our neighborhoods,” he says, discussing the places that contain been devastated by gun violence. “These kids are our kids.”

The simple inclusiveness of this idea and the sensation behind it – the sense that nation, with most of its troubles, is something we’re all in collectively – may sound specifically poignant now, and even a bit quaint. But an identical ethic of solidarity informs every minute of “Quest,” which brings us in to the neighborhood and the home of Christopher and Christine’a Rainey and their teenage daughter, PJ.


Christopher is also referred to as Quest, which is the brand of the recording studio where he sits behind the mixing boards seeing as neighborhood rappers spit their rhymes. Christine’a is definitely Ma Quest, and the two of them, without vanity or any expectation of compliment or prize, serve as mentors, confidants and semi-parental figures for the people around them. Mr. Rainey wakes up at dawn to provide coupon circulars door to door. His wife works extended hours at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. If you lived in North Philly, you’ll need to know them. “Quest” supplies the gift of imagining that you carry out, even as it honors their complicated, sometimes opaque individuality.

Mr. Olshefski doesn’t pry too intrusively into their lives. He and his crew record just what the Raineys are willing to tell and display, and a tale takes condition in response to occasions in their lives. Time flows just like a current instead of advancing steadily in line with the calendar or the clock. Mr. Obama’s initial term passes in the blink of an eyesight. Before you know it, PJ and her daddy are discussing Mitt Romney as the 2012 election draws near.

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Politics is part of their world, and some of the issues that contain recently galvanized open public debate – health care, addiction, crime, tensions between your police and African-American residents – figure prominently in “Quest.” Gun violence affects the Raineys with direct and traumatic power, disrupting the film’s calm, contemplative rhythm. (There’s another, blessedly benign twist down the road.) The disaster that strikes them is definitely upsetting, and the stoicism with which they keep going reaches least equally moving.


But the movie doesn’t hold up its subjects as symbols of struggling or as emblems of durability. The Raineys themselves make no such claim: They take satisfaction in the normalcy of their lives. When Christine’a hears Donald J. Trump producing a pitch to “the African-People in america” who he believes live in unrelieved squalor, she responds with disgust: “You have no idea how we live.”

Is it too much to anticipation that he designer watches “Quest”? Its power is based on its attention to the drama of everyday living, and Mr. Olshefski’s razor-sharp eye for character. We track PJ’s adolescent moods, the tenderness and occasional pressure that defines her parents’ relationship, and also the ups and downs of various other friends and kin. Ms. Rainey’s older boy, William, commences treatment for brain cancer as he’s going to become a daddy. A talented rapper known as Price, one of Mr. Rainey’s creative collaborators and a medicine individual and alcoholic, squanders his guarantee and his friend’s great will as he fights his behavior.

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