Breaking Away (1979)
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Of course, a nine-year-old lacks the world experience to empirically understand the central messages of this film, and at the time my primary devotion to it was centered around Dave Stoller's orange Masi racing bike, a thing that I coveted with the passions of a kid on Christmas Eve.
The movie made me mad with bicycle lust, and I frowned on every Huffy I saw at school. I used to draw pictures of Masi, Bianchi and Olmo bikes all the time after seeing this, and I shamelessly begged my parents for an Italian-made, Campagnolo-equipped racer - a futile thing to do, as my parents knew not to purchase something that expensive for a boy who would physically out-grow a pair of Levis within a school year. Ultimately, I was propelled into the worship of Eddy Merckx while all my classmates were digging into their Terry Bradshaw Topps cards, unaware - as I'm positive they still are - of who the hell Eddy Merckx even is.
BUT...'Breaking Away' is not just a bicycle film - not by a long-shot, and I knew it then too, but that just wasn't very important to me at a time when bicycles were all-important.
Despite my youthful energies, I never did pursue bicycle racing,(although I am definitely a touring enthusiast whose passion for Italian-made bicycles has finally seen fruition) but 'Breaking Away' never left me. It was the REST of the film that eventually got to me - and somewhat later in life - when my emotions and experiences with the world ran deeper.
In short, this film explores many strands: the aimlessness of youth colliding with the responsibilities of adulthood; the often heartbreaking romantic fantasies of people who wish they could be something else; lying and cheating and the false nature of gains made through them; the importance of strong family relations and friendships; and life in small-town America - and it does all this with extraordinary craft, honesty and sensitivity. It's beautiful, and more importantly, it is soulful and original. Although certainly dated in appearance, I'll even toss in the cliche that it is *timeless*, because the themes and characters are so.
The characters themselves are all wonderfully brought out by the perfect casting - it's been said here, but the fact that Dennis Christopher never achieved star-status is truly a shame and a waste of a potentially amazing talent. He played the lead role with a believable intensity and a really quite perfect understanding of his character. Dave Stoller's painful self-realization after the Cinzano race was as memorable a job of acting as I can think of. Paul Dooley and Barbara Barry were also wonderful, as were Quaid, Stern and Haley - every one of them created a personality for their characters, both in dialogue and physical reaction. The rest of the cast was likewise fine, each actor doing the best they could with what were sometimes stock roles (the college kids, for example, including Robyn Douglas, the female romantic role)
The direction, story and, most especially, the dialogue were great as well.
I also picked up a love of Mendelssohn and Rossini when I was just a kid after seeing this - the film score was superb, all the while taking the Stanley Kubrick/Woody Allen approach by choosing some choice compositions of a time long past, rather than belabor the audience with the refried horrors so typical of modern film-score composition.
I hope this movie doesn't become a relic - it seems its own sleeper status has kept it shelved over the years. Mention it to just about any American born before 1975, and they'll know what it is, but only in the way I did when I was nine: they'll usually say something like, "oh yeah, the bicycle film! I remember that one", and then they'll likely have little else to say about it, which is a shame. I still whole-heartedly place this movie among my very favorites every time, and I trumpet it whenever I get into discussions with other people about the movies I love.
The story takes place in Bloomington, Indiana, (home to Indiana University) one of the bigger college towns in America. It concerns the rivalry between the rich, snobbish college kids and the local townies (called cutters because there fathers cut limestone in the local quarries to build the college, among other things.) The cutters are played superbly by Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley. There is not a false note in any of their performances with Quaid and Christopher special stand-outs. It is interesting to note that of the four, only Quaid and Stern went on to bigger and better things.
What really carries this movie though, are the universal themes that everyone can relate to. We can all relate to at least one of the stars, everyone has gone through what they are going through. Most people realize it as one of the more difficult times in their life (as it is for the characters portrayed in the movie.) What carries them through is their friendship with one another, and the support that that gives them. The movie also touches upon family and how hard it is sometimes to communicate with parents, who always (hopefully) love but sometimes just don't understand. Special mention must be made of Paul Dooley (who plays the father of Dennis Christopher), how he did not receive an oscar nomination much less win the coveted statue, for his performance, remains a mystery to this day. Barbara Barrie is also excellent as the mother.
The story follows the cutters as they try to prove to the college kids that they are real human beings, not outcasts to be looked down upon. As one of the cutters is a champion bike rider, the climax of the film and the contest to prove their worthiness, comes down to the Little 500 Bike Race. This is an annual bike race that is still held at IU and is one of the seminal sporting events of the college year (the screenwriter Steve Tesich, who won an oscar for his screenplay, actually won the Little 500). It is the perfect ending for this remarkable and uplifting film.
Praise must be given to everyone involved with the production, there is not a false note throughout the movie. Peter Yates did a superb job of taking relatively unknown actors coupled with tough subject matter and turning it into a minor classic.
In "Breaking Away" we follow the exploits of four misfits just out of high school who contentedly contemplate a future as dead-enders. They aren't particularly smart, athletic, or good-looking, and they lack any sense of direction in their lives. Moreover, as townies, or "cutters" in a college town, they wear a spell of invisibility in their dealings with the students--the differences are painfully obvious. When they hang out on campus or lamely try to chat up the co-eds, they might as well be ghosts haunting a town they used to inhabit. Something happened when they graduated from high school and didn't go on to college: they became cutters, no better than servants, in their own confused eyes.
When we meet Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) we think, here's a guy who might be able to break out of his own rut. He seems to be a kid with a little more on the ball than the others. But then we see that he's also the most confused--by far. Dave is wrapped up in a fantasy world where he's an Italian bike racer, a champion of a sport virtually unknown in America at the time. That Dave's charming misfits of friends take him and his delusions in stride shows us the bond of their friendship and shared misery, and just how far off the map they've all slid.
After a chance encounter with a beautiful sorority girl (Robyn Douglass) Dave pretends to be an Italian exchange student in an effort to woo a girl he believes would otherwise be way out of his reach. He draws on his obsessive knowledge of Italian culture and his own quirky charm to fool the girl into seeing him as someone fresh and new, an outsider, but not a misfit. The romance seems to be going somewhere, and Dave feels he's finally breaking away.
While Dave is conducting his fraudulent personal life he also has an opportunity to race with the Italian bike racers he had worshiped from afar. It's his chance to get recognition from the masters of the sport. He may not have much going as a cutter, but he's certain the Italians will see his racing ability and welcome him as one of their own. But when he shows that he can keep up with them in the race, naively hoping for their approval, they throw him into a ditch. Dave's fantasy world comes crashing down.
When Dave realizes that the Italians will fight to protect their turf just as much as the Americans he resents, his first reaction is to give up--"everybody cheats" he says resignedly. And he rejects the friends who had looked to him for something more--his three chums and their own struggles, and the sorority girl, who had seen in him something special.
Only Dave can save Dave, but it is his father's hard words that prompt him into action. To Dave and his friends, a "cutter" is someone who doesn't measure up to the college kids who are going somewhere in their lives. They affect being misfits because a misfit is one rung on the ladder above how they see themselves, which is as losers. But Dave's father points out that "cutters" were the original stonecutters who built the grand buildings on the campus. They may not be college-educated, Dave's father says, but to them "cutter" is a badge of honor for the hard-working men who built something real out of the flat earth. Dave will never be a "cutter", he says, meaning a man of accomplishment, unless he finds something equally real to do with his own life.
The Indiana Little 500 is a bike race the university holds that is taken very seriously by the groups that participate. At the time, it was the largest race in America, and fraternities counted some of the best American bike racers on their squads. But to Dave and his friends who are invited to race, it is a chance to prove to the students (and themselves) that their lives so far weren't just wasted time.
Yes, Dave is a gifted bike racer, but we already knew that. But the Little 500 (and life) requires that one rely upon not just inner strength, but the creative use of the strengths of others. It is a team race. What Dave learns when testing himself against these college students that he never felt would give him the time of day, is that the biggest obstacle to his own success was himself.
"Breaking Away" is a rich visual tapestry of life lived outside the spotlight. The characters are not fancy or sophisticated, and their life goals are simple and well within reach. It is themselves they struggle with, and their perceptions of themselves. "Breaking Away" is the story of kids who had let their own self-image degrade to the point that a fantasy world, and a life of bitter resentment, seemed like their best option.
This moving drama is on my top ten favorite films of all time. And it should have won the best picture Oscar in 1979, instead of Kramer vs. Kramer. Rating: A PERFECT 10 out of 10.
"Breaking Away" opens in a small town of Indiana, with four friends and as many personalities to identify with. Mike (Dennis Quaid) is a former athlete venting the bitterness of unfulfilled athletic dreams on local college' upper-class students. Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) is hung-up on his height, trying to repress his insecurity while enduring derogatory nicknames every day. Cyril (Daniel Stern) a tall and lanky former basket-ball player and guitar apprentice cares as much about his future as his own father cared about him. And surprisingly, Dave (Dennis Christopher), the central protagonist is the most upbeat of the bunch.
"Breaking Away" is one of these miracles that only the New Hollywood era could provide, something that cuts straight to your heart without you even noticing it. It carries the authentic realism of its Best Picture co-nominee "Norma Rae", with a more heart-warming effect: you smile, laugh and embrace the friendship between these boys who don't know what to do with their post-high-school future, and keep reinventing the world when they go swimming in the abandoned water-filled quarry. And there is something in Peter Yates' directing, that invites the viewer to seize the present with enthusiasm.
And the enthusiasm is embodied by one of the most engaging and lovable characters I've seen in a long time. Dave is so obsessed with the Italian cycling team he translated it in his own life. He talks and sings in Italian and in English with Italian accent, infuriating his Dad (Peter Dooley) who must endure food ending with '-ini-' all the time instead of something American like French Fries. The portrayal of Dave's parents is far from the stereotypical detachment, the mother (Oscar-nominated Barbara Barries) cares too much while the father believes a 19-year old shaving his legs, listening to opera must have some serious issues While watching Dooley, I kept wondering what happened to his Oscar nomination, he's hilarious to a Walter Matthau-level.
The story goes on, Moocher gets a job but finally leaves it after one 'shorty' too many, Mike keeps clashing and competing with the rich college boys who call him 'cutter', a reference to the working-class that built the college and Cyril is the eternal victim of his helpful nature. Drama always works as a misleading safeguard. Many times, you expect an accident to happen, in the quarry, during a fight, but Dave's excitement to compete against the Italian team, in a local sporting event, makes us lower our guard. Amazingly, Dave isn't your typical bleak and disenchanted underdog hero, his cheerful attitude towers over his friends' struggles as we would all love to do with ours.
And in one of the film's most exhilarating sequences, he follows a semi-truck in a freeway with the perfect music in the background, "Barber of Seville'"s Overture. Dave grabs our heart like Opera our feelings, it's so genuine that many stereotypical situations work like serenading Katherine, the girl he loves, or courting her with an Italian accent, we believe "Catherina" would fall for it, because we would too. And while I loved watching Dave's adventure, I kept wondering what exactly made "Breaking Away" in the AFI's Top 100, let alone Top 10 most inspiring films was Dave going to win over the Italians? Big deal! There had to be something.
And that something is the pivotal moment that made me realize there's much more intelligence in "Breaking Away" than your average Sports film, something I could relate to, and that made the ending so emotionally rewarding. Dave finally races with the Italians, he approaches them with an insolent ease, speak Italian with them, but they're obviously irked by that local clown, and finally, the very team he admired jams a tire pump under his wheel and make him crash and at that moment, we witness with shock the collapse of Dave's dreams. The sparkle disappears with the Italian posters, he talks normally, again, asks his father for help and finds him, he embraces his friends' mood and feels like a loser naturally, he tells the truth to his girlfriend.
As painful as the fall was, I felt a deliverance to see him act normally, to become himself again. It provides the necessary taste of disillusion and the discovery of cheat in grown-ups world as the obligatory coming-of-age. When he competes in the "Little 500" race against the college boys, he's got determination, self-confidence and three other 'Cutters' to take a few leaps, 'Cutters' stop being an insult, it's their identity. The final victory doesn't surprise us because the real victory is over our demons, it's not just winning but winning by being true to yourself. That's the kind of stuff great stories are made on, and it earned "Breaking Away" a well-deserved award for Best Original Screenplay.
As a screenwriter myself, I was fascinated by the film's narrative and the way it rode back and forth from comedy to poignant drama, as a screenwriter it reminded me how happy I was to work with an author, putting all my sweat and blood into a six-month promising project before he would dismiss me after receiving the first draft. I felt cheated exactly like Dave felt when he was kicked off his bike. But you know what they say about what doesn't kill you.
Dave recently received a bicycle as a gift, has become a good racer locally, and his heroes are the Italian Cinzano racing team. To the consternation of some, his life begins to revolve around his dreams of becoming a racing champion, to the extent that he basically tries to turn himself into an Italian. He learns the language, absorbs the culture, listens to its operas, and gives his cat an Italian name Fellini! He even pretends to be an Italian exchange student in order to impress a pretty sorority girl named Katherine, whom he calls Caterina and feels would otherwise be beyond his reach.
Dave makes an appealing hero, wonderfully portrayed by Dennis Christopher, vulnerable but with an amazing joie de vivre. His hilarious attempts at becoming Italian, for example shaving his legs like their men but not their women, proved one of the highlights of the movie. The scene where he serenades his Caterina at her sorority house has to be one of the most charming in all filmdom. I was also bowled over by his endearing enthusiasm when he discovers "The Italians are coming!", that his racing heroes will soon be arriving in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana where the entire tale is set, culminating in the Indiana Little 500 cycling race.
Dave is a kid who doesn't think he is good enough for college, lives in a fantasy world of Italian cycling, and wants to break away from his own aimless, mundane life. This is a typical coming of age movie in that he learns a lot about himself and the realities of life, especially from the behaviour of his heroes, the Cinzano racing team. His three sidekicks are a sympathetic bunch -- the rebellious, angry Mike, the short, feisty Moocher, and the goofy, appealing Cyril who seems to have no family. Through competing against the college crowd in the Little 500, they learn lessons in self esteem and team spirit, believing in yourself and striving toward reachable goals.
Breaking Away is a movie with obvious social class themes. Dave and his friends are "townies" called Cutters, named for the stonecutters from the town's quarries. The students at the nearby college campus look down their noses at these Cutters. However, Dave's father, who is a car salesman lacking a college education himself, teaches his son to take pride in the name, that it was stonecutters who built these impressive college buildings.
The film is refreshingly unusual in having a major sympathetic role played by Dave's parents. I absolutely loved the father, portrayed by Paul Dooley, the source of much of the film's humour, announcing for example that he doesn't want anything in his house that ends with 'ini'! Mr. Stoller despairs of his son's Italian phase, fearing verbally that Dave is going to wind up an Italian bum! Both the marital relationship between Dave's parents and the bond between father and son are captured with poignancy as well as humour.
When I first saw this movie after its original release, the thing that remained with me besides the charming joie de vivre of its hero was the wonderful Italian music, from Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and a Rossini opera. This musical score provides magnificent accompaniment to the bicycle racing sequences, especially one in which Dave is racing the Cinzano truck on a highway heading toward Bloomington!
This is a heartwarming movie that no one should miss. It may be almost thirty years old but its characters and story are as engaging as the day it was released. I won't give it away, but that last scene is priceless!
I hadn't seen it for years, going back decades probably. I saw it originally when it came out, as I was only a couple of years junior to those portrayed on the screen. Like others have mentioned, the acting was superb and true to life. Not one second on screen do you feel anyone is acting. Dennis Christopher as lead character David Stoller is really a joy to behold. His enthusiasm is never forced or fake. He pulls it off beautifully.
And Dennis Quaid's Mike character is probably all too common in this world of high school stars peaking with graduation. His story is quietly repeated among so many who saw their best years in high school only to watch others get the longer lasting glory. The speeches he gives are poignant, deep and yet perfectly fitting of his character. He does a wonderful job of showing the frustration of change.
Daniel Stern's Cyril is perfect as the more comical of the bunch - simply perfect casting. Some of his lines are just priceless.
And Jack Earl Haley and 'Moocher' looks like so many of us looked like back then, me included (though I wasn't short). Long straggly hair, t shirt, jeans and string-bean skinny.
Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie were wonderful. As were the brief shots of others at the Little 500. I can only imagine they were locals hired as extras.
Hart Bochner (Lloyd's son) did a fine job as the snob jock. Gotta admit, they didn't come better looking than that back then. I sometimes wonder if Paul McTiernan didn't intentionally subject Hart to that somewhat comical but deadly ending in "Die Hard" out of payback for being such a jerk in "Breaking Away".
Katherina played by Robyn Douglass was wonderful. She had that perfect look of girls you would just die for back then. She even resembled a girl me and my pals were all in love with back in Chatham Township high school. I loved her scenes and her moment when she finds out the truth. Really jolts you out of your seat. Choked me up.
Watching this film really made me aware of how we've changed, not just in our clothing or hair styles, but in our entire lives. Everything is brand-name now, everyone is so conscious of who made the object they desire and how much it cost. The more expensive the better. Everything is new and shiny. Every single element in a movie is examined from eyeglasses to shoes to pens. Everything is measured for its affluence and brand quality.
Back then, we had Schwinns, Huffys, Raleighs, even Sears and whatever else we could afford. We wore clothes just like those kids in the movie wore, T shirts, old jeans cut-offs in summer, and ripped up sneakers. We had fishing holes or swimming holes and spent enormous amounts of time riding bikes, or just laying in the grass or on rocks in the sun, or up in some tree house, just thinking or talking or planning out the universe... and also about girls, which none of us had actually had any meaningful contact with yet. A magical time in a boy's life.
Reminds me of the time we discovered an old playboy in the woods under a fallen tree. It was a huge deal with us at the time. We'd hide it back under the tree trunk wrapped in some plastic and go back to it when we were back there. Nowadays, the most descriptive and graphic porn that even Ripley wouldn't believe is simply a click away 24/7. It's a different world, indeed.
(Ironically, as a side note, the Playboy issue, we found out years later was the one that highlighted the ill-fated Dorothy Stratton.)
Nowadays, can you imagine anyone, especially a 19 year old kid sitting still out in nature or anywhere else for that matter for even ten seconds without whipping out a smart-phone or some other gadget? Or being seen not having just the right clothes, just the right Nikes or Adidas sneakers? We had converse back then, and they were the cheap sneakers.
It's just sad that such a time in life is gone forever, not just in the styles which were, yes, sloppy, an unkempt, but in the way kids lived. It's an entirely different world today and I wouldn't trade my childhood in the 70s and early 80s with any kid today for all the money in the world.
I sat through the film twice, loving it so much and knowing I'd probably never get a chance to see it on the big screen again. Watching it with tears in my eyes, I really felt such an urge that if I could have, I would've climbed into that screen in a second to go back to that time once again that is never more. Just like Willoughby must've been to Rod Serling.
Breaking Away was popular when it came out. It was mentioned in three different college classes within the context of the professor's lecture to illustrate a point. So don't underestimate the depth of concept of this film. It effortlessly works on many different levels, and different people see different things in it. You need to watch it carefully, more than once, to appreciate this. But it has become somewhat forgotten, a sleeper.
However, tears come to my eyes when I think about one of the key messages, explained by the father, after Dave's encounter with the Italian team. It has proved all too true, with the result that the America of 1979 is crumbling around us.
In short, if you haven't seen this movie, watch it. If you don't own it, buy it, because you will want to watch it again, perhaps even 10 or 20 years from now. I've been watching it now and then for more than 30 years.
Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Moocher, was also in Bad News Bears, the original with Walter Matthau. He has some pretty funny lines.
--- On a bicycling note, I happened to find a mint condition Ciocc Itallian racing bicycle from around this period with full Campagnola components and sew on tires. It was a dream to ride, far more agile, yet stable, than my other expensive road bikes. I can see why Dave developed a love affair with his bike.
What I learned is that a well-maintained drive train is nearly silent, at least using modern dry lube. Yet in the movie you can always hear the chain and gears grinding away, especially in the group scene with the Italians. It makes me wonder if bikes back then were really so noisy. Or whether the director or foley man thought too much silence would seem unrealistic to viewers used to cheap bikes, so they added in gear noise.
Also, it becomes amusingly apparent, on close viewing, that Dave is in a very low gear moving slowly, pumping and huffing away, when he appears to be tearing down the road. But most people don't notice this.
The bottom line is this movie often inspires an impulse to get a road bike, and this is a good thing if you have some relatively quiet roads to go long distances, like Dave. On terrain like in the movie, many people could ride 50 or more miles in a day once you get into condition, but with a road or comfort bike, not a mountain bike. It's a great form of recreation. Go for it!
Every performance by the kids is spot on as well as the parents. You feel for Dave and his friends as well as understand why his parents do what they do. Nothing in the movie feels forced, even the race at the end. Yeah, you know Dave will win but it still makes you want to stand up and cheer.
A friend of mine that grew up as a townie in Illinois said the movie was exactly as it was when he was growing up as regards the interaction of the students and the locals.
The thing I liked most about this movie is that Tesich and Yates don't make the townies saintly good guys and the students evil baddies. They are all humans with various motivations and foibles like the rest of us.
As much as I admired this movie I had the bad feeling K v K was going to win best picture. Maybe most of the members of the academy could relate to divorce (that's for sure) as opposed to understand growing up in a college town. Watch it and appreciate a rare movie that is perfectly written, acted and directed.
I also come from an Italian family so this film especially hit financial and nationality cords with us. Although the lead Wasn't Italian his desire to be was humorous and brought haunting familiarity to the film for us.
That however is not why I have been a HUGE fan of this movie for the last 26 years. The characters are... They are portrayed by the actors with such intense realism that to deny this films significance to every single person who comes from a blue collar background in a somewhat large city would be ludicrous.
I dare anyone from a working class family who was coming of age in the late 70s and early 80s to deny this films relevance. I knew every single one of these characters personally growing up from the used car salesman father to the Marlboro smoking muscle car abusing bad ass. From the quiet yet forceful mother to the tall skinny goofball "ceral"...Moocher to Dave I knew them all every single one of them residing in or near my neighborhood.
This film touched our hearts. It spoke of the emotional struggles we went through as children and adults being in a blue collar world. The fantastic part? It did this with humor, a sense of friendship(regardless of how dysfunctional) and an innocence on the brink of realization. Just the way it was. We cheered loudly at the end of this movie as we ate our goobers and popcorn then sighed silently as we left the theater squinting to take the city bus home...
Paul Dooley, (I'll Remember April) is the Dad who hates all those Italian things that his son likes so much. He says that all Italian foods end with an "ini" such as: zucchini, liguini, fettuccine, and so on.
Dave is a bicyclist who is looking forward to meeting the Italian team that is coming to town. He seems to naively think that the Italian team will welcome him with open arms. Boy, does he gets disappointed! The Italian team groups up against him and one sticks a bicycle pump in his spokes. Later the four of them decide to race in a college race as a Cutter team and the university kids make fun of them. The cutter team, the little guys win. We all like that! Dad them decides to bike also, and to his surprise the son gives up been Italian and now turns French and passes dad on the street and says: Bon Jour! papa. He goes go to college, where he is now after a mademoiselle and no longer cares for the bambina.
Favorite Scenes: Dave racing the Cinzano truck, the four of them swimming in the lake on a lazy summer day, the cutter team winning the race, Dave singing to Catherine. Favorite lines: Son :"Did you know that fly in Italian is Mosca! Dad:" Did you know that fly in English is pest." Dad: "All Italians food end with an "ini": zucchini, liguini, fettuccine". Darn, I want some American food! I want french fries! "Oh! Dave, please do not turn Catholic on us!"
This a fun movie. I have the tape and every once and awhile will watch it. The script is so good that no matter how many times you watch it there is something interesting to be discovered.
That night (I still remember quite vividly 24-years later), the cashier at the Golf Mill Theatre in Niles, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) was being a total wench and wouldn't let us -- a bunch of well-groomed, fresh-faced, albeit unaccompanied 11-year olds -- into an "R"-rated flick. So, the only other option playing that night was "Breaking Away", which we reluctantly decided to see instead. Being the very last ones in the theater, we were seated front-and-center in the very first row -- just feet from the bottom of the screen.
And although we spent the entire two hours of the movie with our eyes skyward and our necks bent at an obtuse angle in order to see this movie, "Breaking Away" proved to be one of the best coming-of-age movies that I have ever seen.
Anyways, it was great watching this movie in a theatre. During the entire showing we laughed, we yelled, we screamed, we snickered, we guffawed, we threw popcorn at the screen -- we did it all. And when Dave (played by Dennis Christopher) brought the "Cutter" Team home in the last lap of the "Little-500" Bicycle Race, we cheered -- boy, did we cheer -- along with the rest of the theatre.
Those were the days, and this film is now one of my top-10 "feel-good flicks" of all time. Side note: About two years after the film came out, I happened to bump into the inimitable Robyn Douglass (who played the hot coed Katherine/"Caterina") at a sporting goods store in downtown Wilmette, Illinois. I wanted to say something to her, but I couldn't b/c I was tongue-tied due to my teenage hormones getting the better of me (I was 13 at the time). Come to think of it, that just about summed up the totality of my teenage existence back then, but I digress.
Memorable characters in this film were Dennis Quaid as "Mike", the aging ne'er-do-well townie living on his past successes as a high-school football quarterback; Daniel Stern as the bucolic wiseacre "Cyril" (in his first cinematic appearance); and Jackie Earle Haley as "Moocher", the volatile clock-punching runt. There was also the unforgettable performance by second-city veteran and co-creator of the inimitable 1970's children's show, "The Electric Co.", Paul Dooley, portraying the disaffected used-car salesman "Raymond" -- Dave's father.
Some of the most memorable scenes in this movie are set to classical scores -- especially the fantastic racing scenes. For example, my personal favorite is when Dave finds out that Team CinZano is coming to Indianapolis for a big cycling race. He immediately kisses everybody in sight, crosses himself, and says "Santa Maria" -- even though his family isn't Catholic. He then hops on his racing bike, and proceeds straightaways to the outskirts of town, where he intercepts the Team CinZano truck (how likely is that?) on the Interstate passing through town.
Dave then goes head-to-head with the speeding semi-truck until he overtakes it at 60 mph, with the old-timer truck driver egging him on every step of the way as he calls out his speed with hand signals out the window. The entire scene has outstanding long-shots of Dave racing a semi on a highway set to Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony No.4 in A major, opus 90.
The other great racing scene is during Dave's starcrossed participation in the "Indianapolis 100" cycling event where Dave fatefully endeavors to strike it up with Team CinZano. The entire race is set to Rossellini's rousing "William Tell Overture", and is simply riveting -- as well as shocking.
The funniest scene, though, is when Dave serenades his pipedream sorority chick, "Caterina", whom he's infatuated with to Flotow's aria "M'appari, tutt'amor" -- "MAARTHA, MARTHA" -- in front of her Chi Delt sorority house. To die for -- especially, when he "gets" the girl and they ride off into the night in the middle of campus, albeit with "Caterina" precariously perched atop the handlebars of his ten-speed.
Incidentlally, of all the "Breaking Away" cast members, Dooley and Quaid had the most prolific and successful careers afterwards. Dooley would go on to play Molly Ringwald's goofball dad 7-years later in "Sixteen Candles," and Dennis Quaid, of course, has been in everything from "The Right Stuff" to "DOA" to "InnerSpace" to "The Rookie".
(Sidebar: I graduated from a "land-grant" state university myself that was virtually identical to I.U. Bloomington -- complete with "townies" and everything. I did a lot a cycling at the time, and every time I did, I couldn't help but feeling exactly like Dave Stoller.)
Hat's off to a primo, nummero uno coming-of-age flick!
Breaking Away is a story about a teenage cyclist growing up in Bloomington, Indiana. Somehow he has become obsessed with the Italian cycling team. And whether his motivation is a unique way to meet young coeds at Indiana University or something else, he is an incredible cyclist.
The fun part of this movie is his interaction with his mother Evelyn Stoller, who seems very understanding about his Italian cultural ways, and his father Ray Stoller, who doesn't understand why his son thinks he's Italian. Give credit to writer Steve Tesich whose script takes viewers on a humorous and believable adventure in this wonderful small-budget movie.
Add in three friends who just graduated from high school, and this story is a fascinating jaunt with coming of age. Dennis Quaid plays a former high school quarterback, Jackie Earle Haley plays the short and defensive Moocher, and Daniel Stern plays Cyril, a student whose father likes to encourage him when he fails. Each of the supporting actors does a great job in helping to convey the story, but you can really see Daniel Stern's strength in comic acting in his first major movie role.
The sports rivalry is actually established by the city kids called Cutters, competing for dates against the college male students. Eventually, the two rival groups compete against each other in a bike race called the Little 500. But honestly, the joy in this movie is the journey with all of the characters in the Peter Yates directed movie.
As in life, there is humor and sadness, friends and family, rivals and conflict brought out on the big screen. This movie was surprisingly good the first time I saw it, and still enjoyable 30 years after its release. How good is Breaking Away? It won an Oscar in 1980 for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen with Steven Tesich doing a tremendous job in "wordsmithing" the script. The movie also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Barrie), and Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score (Patrick Williams).
Perhaps my best recommendation for Breaking Away is that I consider it better than that other famous Indiana sports movie about High School basketball. That's probably a minority view, but if you haven't seen Breaking Away, you have missed a jewel of a movie.
Breaking Away will probably move too slowly for some, who may expect to see fast-paced and high-risk bicycling from the start. For the person who enjoys feeling his interest and tension build as situations and relationships between characters develop, however, Breaking Away will not bore him.
Besides the stigma felt by the four friends for having fathers who spent much of their working lives cutting stones at the town's rock quarry, predestining the boys to underachieve, each contends with his own personal struggle. Moocher must deal with his tiny stature and the people who mock him for it, Mike, with his regrets for having not pursued football further, in addition to his overall angry disposition, and Cyril, with the basketball scholarship he could have had as well as his undermining father.
Dave Stoller has the most complex inner conflict, I think. He attempts to live out his fantasy as an Italian cyclist in part because he does have the appropriate talent. Breaking Away reminds young people that they must sometimes give up something they do legitimately well when they make realistic and practical choices about their future as independent young adults.