Shot over a decade in North Philadelphia, Quest starts out with one subject matter in mind but soon changes to something much more intimate and personal. The film effectively captures the struggles of a family living on the edge of the of the poverty line and how their neighborhood both embraces and protects them as well as keeps them in danger at the same time.
We are first introduced to Christopher “Quest” Rainey and Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey on their wedding day. Having already been together for years, having a teenage daughter together named PJ and multiple children each from previous relationships that have all moved out of the house already, the pair finally have decided to tie the knot even though everyone else has considered them married for over a decade.
The pair invested money in converting their basement into a recording studio and host what they call ‘freestyle Friday’ every week where aspiring rappers can come in to lay down lines over new beats created by Quest. Quest’s biggest protégé is a recovering addict named Price. But after a stray bullet from a shootout blocks away strikes PJ, it alters the course of life for the entire family. Adding to this is the illness and recovery that the family has already been dealing with of another on of Ma Quest’s children, William, who has been struggling since being released from the hospital.
With the shooting and its aftermath taking priority once it happens, director Jonathan Olshefski switches his focus back inward and it becomes less about the music and the recording studio as it does the aftermath of violence and the ominous feeling everyone starts that creeps over everything in their neighborhood as Obama’s stint in the Whitehouse nears its conclusion.
While very effective through most of the film- including a difficult doctor’s follow up I won’t go into over in fear of spoiling the impact- the narrowing of focus does come with its downfalls as well. William’s story could be more fleshed out, though it does come to a satisfying conclusion. The biggest concession comes in the story of Price though. After an emotional and desperate plea turns to a point where Quest must stand his ground, Price’s story basically comes to an end with a hint of much more that could have been there.
The film hits hard in many more ways than it misses, and I admit to having to watch it a 2nd time through to truly capture the feeling of what Olshefski is delivering with this unwavering lens. While the story does not go where it may be expected to, and in some ways places I wish it had gone more, it still delivers an insightful take on the lives of a family just doing everything they can to live. And just living is something that can be an epic journey all on its own.