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Breaking Away Movie Review

Director: Peter Yates

Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Dooley, Barbara Barrie, Robyn Douglass, Hart Bochner, P. J. Soles, Amy Wright, John Ashton

Oscar Wins: Best Original Screenplay

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Barrie), Best Director, Best Adapted Musical Score, Best Picture

Part coming-of-age comedy, part underdog tale, and part glimpse into small-town America, Breaking Away is one of the greatest sports movies that’s not about sports. Like others in its category, it is both wonderfully goofy and, at the same time, is an incredible exploration of humanity through character.

Bloomington, Indiana is a town divided. Dave (Dennis Christopher), Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern) and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) have just graduated high school and have the great misfortune of being born on the wrong side of the tracks. While the wealthy kids dream about life at the university, this group is somewhat destined to become “cutters”, a term used to describe the men who work at the nearby quarry.

While some in this situation might accept their fate, Dave is not so inclined. He dreams of becoming a champion Italian bicycle racer. In fact, he’s so committed that he spends all his time embracing the Italian culture. He speaks in broken Italian and blares opera records at home, much to his parents’ dismay. He insists on eating “-ini foods” (zucchini, linguini, fettucine) and even renames the family cat Fellini. The proof of his success comes when he convinces a college girl named Kathy (Robyn Douglass) that he’s actually an Italian exchange student.

Dave’s “Italomania” proves to be the movie’s funniest running joke. Dave’s father (Paul Dooley) rants and raves that he didn’t raise his boy to be an “Eye-talian”…yet Dooley is so loveable (as is Dave’s mother, played by Barbara Barrie), that you can’t not love him.

Taking place in that glorious summer following high school graduation and preceding lingering adulthood, Breakaway finds these four friends at a crossroad as the real world infringes on their lazy afternoons. It becomes especially real for Dave when he finally gets the chance to race alongside his idols in a state competition in Indianapolis. When things don’t go to plan, Dave wonders if he’s really destined to be a “cutter” after all.

But, as all sports movies have taught us, fate has other plans. An opportunity to race as a local gives Dave another opportunity at bike racing, one that will – once and for all – help him see the path ahead.

Breaking Away is a movie to treasure. While there is a cycling element, that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about people who are complicated but understanding, who are optimistic but still see things realistically, who are fundamentally comic characters but are fully dimensional. It’s about a Middle America we rarely see in the movies, complete with all the corn a Midwesterner could ask for. And, as these characters cycle into adulthood, we’re reminded of the first lesson many of us learned from our parents: when you fall, you have to get back up again and keep trying. And, maybe if we practice enough, making our way through life will be just as easy as riding a bike.


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