Breaking Away (1979)

Breaking Away (1979)


In Bloomington, Indiana, a group of blue-collar friends (Dennis Christopher, Fade to Black, Dennis Quaid, Innerspace, Daniel Stern, Home Alone, Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children) ponder upon the future. Job prospects for them don’t look good. They are also made to feel inadequate by wealthy students attending Indiana University. A local cycling competition might just be the biggest thing to happen to these kids.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Directed by Peter Yates, Breaking Away was the “sleeper hit” of 1979 — a low-budget, unpretentious dramedy that took audiences and critics by surprise. This endearing, charming film deserved all the accolades, and it has aged well.

Breaking Away perfectly encapsulates 1970s teen angst. I know what I’m talking about. Like the teenagers in the movie, I was a ’70s kid whose summer vacations were filled with lazy days and many uncomplicated misadventures. But people of different generations can appreciate and enjoy the film too — there is something universal about the theme of young people trying to find their purpose in life.

Steve Tesich’s (The World According to Garp) Oscar-winning script touches all the bases — it’s a coming-of-age with pathos and humor. The characters are appealing and the situations feel real. The narrative is rather simple, but it works so well! And Breaking Away manages to handle a few important social issues in a disarmingly honest manner — it has equal amounts of touching drama and comedy.

Yates, who directed the 1968 action classic Bullitt, does an outstanding job filming the last race. Usually, directors rely on multiple takes during action sequences. Yates does something that’s unexpected — he shoots the last two laps using a single uninterrupted wide-angle. The experiment works exceedingly well — it’s an exciting sequence.

The cast is perfect. Dennis Christopher is terrific as a local cyclist obsessed with Italian culture. Barbara Barrie (Oscar-nominated) and Paul Dooley (Popeye) nearly steal the film as Christopher’s long-suffering parents. Dooley, in particular, has some great lines. Look closely for the great P.J. Soles (Halloween and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School). With Hart Bochner (Supergirl) and Amy Wright (The Deer Hunter).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Breaking Away is a 40-year-old movie that hasn’t dated one bit. There is so much here that’s still relevant today and there is also something utterly irresistible about underdogs triumphing over big obstacles. Breaking Away is a truly great movie! Followed by a short-lived TV series. Color, 101 minutes, Rated PG.

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