Quest is a PBS produced documentary following the proprietors of Everquest Studios in Philadelphia. Christopher and Christine’a are getting married in their recording studio, Everquest, which is set up in the basement of their North Philadelphia home. They have been together for years, already “…married in their mind…”, but finally, take the official plunge. Christopher and Christine’a have one daughter P.J., who is eleven, though there are children from previous relationships. Sadly, William, Christine’a’s son, whose wife is pregnant, is diagnosed with cancer. As the Rainey’s navigate this difficult time, things look up a bit as Obama is running for re-election
Meanwhile, a gifted rapper named Price (his stage name) has fallen off the wagon, which causes Christopher to rethink their working relationship. Not one to just sit there and rest on his laurels, Christopher still does Freestyle Fridays, when amateurs can come to the studio and sing or rap, about whatever they need to let out.
Then the unthinkable happens- P.J. is shot in the eye! As her parents try to figure out what happened, good and bad news comes from the emergency room. The doctors can safely remove the bullet and its fragments, and she will live, but her eye is too severely injured to mend. P.J. will get a false eye that will move and look realistic, heck, it’ll even be able to produce tears, but she won’t ever be able to see out of it. For her release from the hospital, a giant block party is thrown with friends and family, and even the cop that helped save her life.
“…Everquest Studios is so vital to the community because it is one of the only avenues these people have to vent their frustrations…”
Side note about the police officer- the night everything happened, he stayed at the hospital until his shift was over and gave rides to any friends/ family that were there that needed rides to get back home.
Quest then picks up in 2016, in the middle of Trump and Hillary campaigning for president. P.J. now has a job, and her parents still run Everquest Studio. Protests about the rash of mass shootings and police brutality against African-Americans are a stark contrast to how the rundown, but friendly North Philadelphia community depicted years earlier, dangerous though it was and still is. Does William survive his terminal prognosis? Does P.J. let her anger about the loss of her eye lead her toward a dangerous path? Is Everquest Studios helping their neighborhood the way the Raineys intend to when it was first built?
Directed by Jonathan Olshefski, Quest is noble in its aspirations but lackluster in its execution. The Raineys are intelligent, caring people whom the audience can relate to and empathize with, especially P.J., who is a bright, smart ball of energy; but their goals aren’t represented well. Everquest Studios is so vital to the community because it is one of the only avenues these people have to vent their frustrations in a healthy, constructive, artistic way. This is only ever told to the audience, never shown. The documentary never gets into the community of Philly they live in any substantial way, so it being impoverished, or at the very least teetering towards such, doesn’t have any impact. This is best exemplified in the doped up Price. He has enough screentime for a whole subplot (his failure to stay sober long enough to deliver good songs to Christopher) but no backstory or framing mechanism is given to contextualize his arc. How long was he sober for this falling out with Christopher? Did anything similar happen between the two of them before this incident?
Aside from Price, who even by the end of the movie, the audience knows precious little about, non-family members are essentially non-existent. This lack of scope makes for a boring watch, as Quest spins its wheels until something else, good or bad, happens to the Raineys.
That the style of the documentary is basic talking head interviews tips the film even further into a sleep-inducing mode. There is no attempt to stimulate or use the locale to create atmosphere. The story of the Rainey’s deserves more, as does the viewer.
Quest centers on a well-meaning family who have gone through unfathomable tragedies but still want to enrich the lives of other people. That is a story worth telling. Due to a lack of context and poor directing, that story is executed in the most boring manner possible.
Quest (2018) Directed by Jonathan Olshefski. Starring Christopher Rainey, Christine’a Rainey, P.J. Rainey, Price, William Withers.