Breaking Away (1979)


In Bloomington, Indiana, a group of young blue-collar friends (Dennis Christopher, Chariots of Fire, Dennis Quaid, The Day After Tomorrow, Daniel Stern, Home Alone, Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children) wander aimlessly through the streets of their small town unsure of what to do with their lives. A local cycling competition might just the thing these troubled young men need to prove their worth.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“They’re gonna keep callin’ us “cutters.” To them, it’s just a dirty word. To me, it’s just somethin’ else I never got a chance to be.”

Brilliantly directed by Peter Yates (Eyewitness and Krull), Breaking Away was the unexpected “sleeper hit” of 1979. This is a relatively low-budget, unpretentious dramedy that took audiences and critics by surprise. Funny, endearing and sincerely heartfelt, the film greatly deserved all the praise that it got, and it has aged well.

It’s easy to see why Breaking Away received so much love from audiences and critics alike. The movie is a thoughtful and insightful slice of American life from the 1970s. I instantly connected with the main characters, because like the film’s young protagonists, I was a ’70s kid who grew up in a very small town.

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. In addition, Breaking Away does an excellent job in exploring class differences, something that I’m afraid occurs in all parts of the world.

The scope of Steve Tesich’s (The World According to Garp and American Flyers) multilayered, Oscar-winning screenplay is remarkably wide. The narrative is rather simple, but it covers a variety of issues — growing pains, class warfare, clash of generations, young love, etc. — with pathos and humor.

Breaking Away manages to handle these important real-life issues in a disarmingly honest and sensitive manner — it has equal amounts of touching drama and comedy. Above all, the characters are appealing, and the situations feel real. You have encountered these people — they were your friends and neighbors, or maybe they were family members, thus you instantly understand their problems.

One footnote: filmmaker Yates does an outstanding job filming the movie’s climax. Usually, directors rely on multiple takes during action sequences. Yates does something that’s wonderfully unexpected. He shoots the last minute of the bicycle race without a single edit. It 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 little gem. Highly recommeded! Followed by a short-lived TV series. Color, 101 minutes, Rated PG.

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