261. Breaking Away (US 1979)

Director: Peter Yates

Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley

Music Editor: Len Engel (various classical/orchestral pieces used in the film).

Cinematography: Matthew F.Leonetti

Screenplay: Steve Tesich

FACT: Peter Yates's directorial debut was the Cliff-tastic 'Summer Holiday'

 In one line: Small-town high school leaver is obsessed with cycling and all things Italian.

 

Dave Stohler (Christopher) is a native of Bloomington, Indiana, a college town where there is a distinct social divide between the affluent university students and the local town population who are known as 'Cutters' due to the town's prosperity built on its limestone quarrying and cutting.

Dave spends his days at the local quarry pool with his friends Mike, Cyril and Moocher. Here they discuss the pros and cons of small town life and see the inequalities of the system via glimpses of the upmarket lifestyles of the students who also use the pool or drive past in expensive cars.

Dave lives with his parents. His mother (Barbara Barrie) understands his gentle ways and his obsession with Italian culture and its cycling team. His father (Dooley), a used-car dealer, despairs at his son's idealism and hopes that he will eventually join the real world.

Dave invents a cosmopolitan back-story to make himself more interesting in order to pursue college student Katherine (Robyn Douglass) and waits in hope for the arrival of the Italian Cinzano road-racing team.

The Italians prove to be arrogant and unpleasant, and they sabotage Dave's chances of winning the race.

Dave's life starts to fall apart, and after an altercation at the university campus, the Dean decides that local tensions could be eased by a cycle race at the university track.

The scene is set for Dave to put his life in order....

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Although it won an Oscar for best original screenplay, Breaking Away has almost disappeared from popular consciousness.

There are numerous adjectives that are usually attached to the film, including 'elegiac', 'charming' and 'poignant', and for once, they're all spot-on. Breaking Away was a word-of-mouth success that enjoyed a extended stay on American screens in the summer of 1979.

There is no show-off acting and the cast of (then) unknowns add an even greater lustre to a film that lives on long after its screen time has ended.

Dennis Christopher is a likeable actor, perfectly cast as the quiet dreamer Dave, a young man who dreams of better things without having to ram his dreams and frustrations down everyone's throats (I shudder to think what Sean Penn would have done with the role). He is ably supported by all concerned - Stern is excellent as usual (as 'Cyril'!), and Dennis Quaid is particularly good as the volatile Mike.

There are too many good things to mention, but the arrival of the Italians and their bastard Leeds United circa 1973/Italian national/club football team (1973 to, well, perpetuity) tactics is a good metaphor for the disillusioning qualities of growing up.

The final race itself is great and I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it.

The film is not without its faults - some of the comedy is a little too broad and jars somewhat with the subtleties of the film in general. Some of the more, er, poignant scenes are badly edited, and there is often the sense that the rhythm of the film is being impaired by a film that has been cut to establish a far shorter running scene. A scene involving the announcement of a late pregnancy in the Stohler household almost seems like it has been added on to the film at the last minute, and a scene where Dave's dad has a heart attack is very badly handled.

That apart, Breaking Away is a great, unpretentious little 'movie'. The film has lots to say about social inequality, the transitory nature of life, love and family relationships, and the desire to dream and 'break away'.

Make sure you see it at least once.

8/10