Classic Film Guide

Breaking Away (1979)

Produced and directed by Peter Yates, this essential comedy (sports) drama features an Academy Award winning story by Steve Tesich, who won the Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Oscar on his only nomination. Yates received his first two (of four unrewarded) nominations as well, for Best Picture and Best Director. Patrick Williams, who wrote the film's Score, also received his only nomination as did Barbara Barrie, who was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. But the film also features many fine other performances including some of the first from actors who would become more well known over the years for their work. The cast includes: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern (his screen debut), Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Dooley, Robyn Douglass (her feature film debut), and Hart Bochner (among others). #8 on AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies list.

It's a coming of age story about Dave Stoller (Christopher), an awkward teen who yearns to be a world class cyclist like the Italians he idolizes. Unfortunately for Dave, when he gets the chance to meet and compete with these Italian cyclists (Team Cinzano), he is cheated by them and becomes disillusioned. Mike (Quaid), Cyril (Stern), and Moocher (Haley) are Dave's best friends, all just out of high school with no college or other life plans, sons of blue collar workers that live in Bloomington, Indiana. They're called ‘cutters’ by the students at the University after the laborers that helped build the town and its institutions by mining and cutting the stone used to construct its buildings. The label is used derogatorily even though it's thought of as a badge of honor by their fathers. Each of the others struggle with their identity too: Mike with his fleeting fame as the star quarterback on his high school football team, lanky brainy Cyril has relationship problems with his father (who's seemingly uninterested in his son), and Moocher with his short height. Dave's solution is pretending to be Italian as he escapes to a peaceful world on his bike; Mike tries to compete with college kids like Rod (Bochner) and though he's overmatched, he refuses to admit it ; Moocher fights with anyone who refers to his shortcomings, and also gets engaged to his sweetheart Nancy (Amy Wright); sadly, Cyril never seems to connect with anyone other than his fellow cutters - the film's ending is particularly poignant for him.

Paul Dooley gives a terrific performance playing Dave's confused (by his son) father Raymond, driven crazy by his son's behavior; Barrie plays Dave's understanding mother Evelyn, who provides the glue that keeps the family together, the perfect balance and quiet understanding peacemaker between father and son. Robyn Douglass plays an attractive college girl that catches Dave's eye; he's so taken with her that he pretends to be a foreign exchange student at the university. This leads the cutters onto the campus, some of the college kids had made their way to the cutters swimming hole at the abandoned marble quarry, where a fight breaks out between the rivals. The Dean's solution is to invite the locals to enter into the mini-500 bicycle race around the college's cinder track, against the protestations of the fraternities and their leaders, notably Rod. The climactic race itself, while somewhat predictable in outcome, is thrilling and well staged. There's also a bonus for Dave's parents in the end.

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