Breaking Away (1979) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A small-town boy obsessed with the Italian cycling team vies for the affections of a college girl.

  • Best friends Dave, Mike, Cyril and Moocher have just graduated from high school. Living in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, they are considered "cutters": the working class of the town so named since most of the middle aged generation, such as their parents, worked at the local limestone quarry, which is now a swimming hole. There is great animosity between the cutters and the generally wealthy Indiana University students, each group who have their own turf in town. The dichotomy is that the limestone was used to build the university, which is now seen as being too good for the locals who built it. Although each of the four is a totally different personality from the other three, they also have in common the fact of being unfocused and unmotivated in life. The one slight exception is Dave. Although he has no job and doesn't know what to do with his life, he is a champion bicycle racer. He idolizes the Italian cycling team so much he pretends to be Italian, much to the chagrin of his parents, especially his used car salesman father, Ray Stoller, who just doesn't understand his son. Dave crosses the unofficial line when he meets and wants to date a IU co-ed named Katherine Bennett, who, intrigued by Dave, in turn is already dating Rod, one of the big men on campus. Dave passes himself off to her as an Italian exchange student named Enrico Gismondi. Beyond Katarina as he calls her, Dave's main immediate focus is that the Italian cycling team have announced that they will be in Indianapolis for an upcoming race, which he intends to enter to be able to race his idols. After an incident at the race, Dave, with a little help from his parents and unwittingly by actions of his friends, has to reexamine his life, what he really wants to get out of it and how best to start achieving it.

  • Dave and his working-class friends Cyril, Moocher and Mike spend their post-high school days in Bloomington, Indiana, sparring with snooty students from the local university, chasing girls and--in Dave's case--dreaming of competitive bicycle racing. The four friends face opposition from all corners as they decide to make Dave's dreams come true in the university's annual bicycle endurance race.

  • Dave, nineteen, has just graduated high school, with his 3 friends, the comical Cyril, the warm hearted but short-tempered Moocher, and the athletic, spiteful but good-hearted Mike. Now, Dave enjoys racing bikes and hopes to race the Italians one day, and even takes up the Italian culture, much to his friends and parents annoyance. Meanwhile, the 4 friends try to break away from their townie, Indiana reputation while fighting with nearby college snobs.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In Bloomington, Indiana, recent high school graduate Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) carries a cycling trophy as he walks through the woods with his friends Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley), on their way to swim at an abandoned, water-filled quarry.

    Later that morning, Dave rides his bike through town, singing in Italian, while his parents, Evelyn (Barbara Barrie) and Ray (Pau Dooley), discuss his recent behavior at breakfast. Ray wants Dave to get a job and move out, but Evelyn defends her son's interest in cycling and remaining at home with his parents, the way Italian people live. Dave returns with his trophy and announces that an Italian cycling team may race in Indiana soon. Ray later pretends Dave is a stranger when he rides past his father's used car lot and shouts hello in Italian.

    Back at the quarry, Dave and his friends discuss their need to find jobs, hoping to work at the same place. Mike notices several college students from the University of Indiana on the other side of the quarry and becomes upset, suggesting that if they want to infringe upon the locals' territory, he and his friends should take a trip to the college campus. Soon after, they drive to Indiana University and discuss the differences between the rich students and themselves.

    While they watch the football team practice, Mike recalls his time as a high school quarterback and expresses the frustration he feels when reading newspaper stories about players on the college team. Later, Dave practices Italian on campus and spots a beautiful girl riding a moped. Picking up a book that she dropped, Dave chases her on his bike, and outside the girl's sorority house, he returns the book. Dave introduces himself as "Enrico," an Italian exchange student, and she tells him her name is Katherine (Robyn Douglass).

    One day, Dave receives a cycling journal in the mail and learns that Team Cinzano, the Italian cyclists, will hold a race in nearby Indianapolis. As Dave rides through town, Cyril runs alongside him, and they discuss a college entrance exam Dave is supposed to take, though he admits he doesn't want to go back to school.

    One night, Dave stands outside Katherine's sorority and serenades her in Italian while Cyril plays his guitar. Inside the sorority, Katherine's friend Suzy (Pamela Jane Soles) calls Katherine's current boyfriend, Rod (Hart Bocher), to alert him. Meanwhile, Evelyn and Ray have a romantic dinner at home, listening to Italian music. When Dave finishes his song, Katherine rides off with him, leaving Cyril behind. Rod and his friends pull up and run after Cyril, believing he was the one who serenaded Rod's girlfriend. Later, Dave and Katherine return, and she kisses him goodnight.

    The next day, Mike sees Cyril's bruises and demands to know what happened, but Cyril remains silent about the incident. Determined to find the culprit, Mike drives to campus where Cyril identifies Rod, who is driving around with a new girl. Rod calls Mike and his friends "Cutters," a local word for townies. Spotting Rod's car later that night, Mike, Cyril, and Moocher search for Rod inside a dining hall where Dave and Katherine are having a date. Mike and Rod start a brawl, and police arrive to break it up.

    Rod and his friends gather before a college administrator who suggests they resolve their conflict with the local residents in a more dignified manner and announces that this year's Little 500 bicycle race will welcome one team comprised of four non-students.

    At the quarry, Dave says he does not want to race in the Little 500, but Mike encourages him, suggesting that they will have a proper team if all four participate. On the other side of the quarry, Rod shows up with friends, and he and Mike engage in an impromptu swimming contest until Mike cuts his head on a rock. Afterward, Moocher and Dave walk through town, and Moocher announces that he's going to marry his girlfriend, Nancy (Amy Wright). He then meets Nancy at the courthouse to apply for a marriage license.

    Riding his bicycle through a red light, Dave almost collides with his father who is leading a test drive. Ray's vehicle stalls and later must be towed, costing him the sale. The next evening, Evelyn suggests that Ray give Dave a job, and, despite his resistance, Ray hires Dave to wash the cars on the lot. When a customer attempts to return a car, citing a 90-day guarantee Ray promised, Dave encourages his father to honor his word, but Ray refuses. He then suffers a heart attack.

    At home, as a doctor tends to Ray in bed, Dave tells his mother he will not compete in the upcoming bicycle race against the Italians, but Evelyn urges him to race despite Ray's condition.

    At the Cinzano 100 race, Dave gets a slow start but eventually catches up to the Italian team, who later cheats by shifting Dave's gear and sticking a pole through his wheel, causing him to fall and injure himself. At home, Dave greets Ray and Evelyn without an Italian accent. When Ray asks about the race, Dave cries and hugs his father.

    On campus, Dave admits to Katherine that he lied about being Italian, and she reacts by slapping him and storming off.

    At night, Ray asks Dave to join him for a walk. They discuss Dave's future, and Dave admits he is scared to go to college. Ray recalls his days working as a lowly stone cutter, and urges his son to aim for higher goals.

    One day, Dave's friends present him with an old Roadmaster bicycle, the only make allowed in the Little 500. Though Dave remains unenthusiastic, his passion is reignited when Mike expresses doubt about their chances of winning. Dave takes the bike home and fixes it. In town, he runs into Katherine, and she wishes him luck, saying that she will soon leave for a job in Chicago, Illinois.

    On the day of the Little 500, Dave and his friends wear shirts provided by Evelyn, with the team name "Cutters" across their chests. Though Dave gains a strong lead early in the race, he collides with another rider and sustains an injury. Moocher, Cyril, and Mike take turns riding while Dave receives medical attention. Listening to the race on the radio, Ray leaves work to join Evelyn in the crowd. When Dave sees his father there, he is inspired to get back into the race. Tied with Rod's team on the final lap, Dave pulls ahead at the last minute and wins the race.

    In the final scene some time later, Ray rides a bicycle through campus and says hello to Dave, now a student, who has just met a charming French girl.

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