Sunday 19 February 2023

Breaking Away (1979)



There are lots of sports movies around, but precious few about bicycling. I like bicycling so learning that this movie was about that, made me very curious indeed. What it really is though, is a coming of age story, but one of the better ones, so I was not too disappointed that the bicycling was merely a tool for the story.

The four friends Dave, (Dennis Christopher), Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern) and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) have finished high school and now spends a year just hanging out. They live in the town of Bloomington, home of the Indiana State University, a town which is rather sharply  divided into those with a connection to the university and the natives, called Cutters due to the main industry of the town of cutting limestone. Essentially affluent upper class versus unrefined working class. The friends all belong to the latter with something of a chip on their shoulder against the former.

While each of them has a story of their own, it is Dave we follow. He loves bicycle racing, adores Italian bicycle teams and through them everything Italian. He even learns Italian and goes around pretending to be that. While his mother has some sympathy for his dream, all this rubs his father entirely the wrong way. The circus between the three of them is half the movie and is preciously comedic.

Dave starts to court college girl Katherine (Robyn Douglass) pretending to be an Italian exchange student and when the Italian professional bicycle team Cinzano joins a local race, Dave thinks his dreams are coming true. Jealous to be matched by a local amateur, one of the Cinzano riders stick a pump into his wheels and makes him crash and all Dave’s dreams with it.

Will a local Little 500 race be the ticket to regain self-respect and a way out of passivity?   

In many ways “Breaking Away” is a story I have seen many times, but it is a good story, and this is one of the better renditions. Because this is a seventies version of the story, it wants to pitch working class local boys against the privileged, but that is even not that big of a theme. Finding the ticket to something better by believing in the dream and being a team is the big one here. The ticket here just happens to be through bicycling.

I love the show of Dave pretending to be Italian. It is ridiculous and stupid but also endearing. I love that he is so much into his dream, and I love the play with his parents. His father going nut over all this Italian stuff, finding way too many things with “ini” in it: Fettuccini, zucchini and so on.

The story with the group of boys finding themselves in the limbo of what to do with their lives is also a classic. Their pact of sticking together may be holding them back but it also gives them strength as a team. Should the strength of a team not also promote them into better lives?

I am not terribly familiar with American college towns and the dynamics there, though I did stay for two months in Hanover, NH, back in 07. Not really enough to sense any conflict, the town there seemed to embrace the college, but I get the impression that the movie is rather faithful in presenting Bloomington and a conflict that may be more about the fear of aspirations and ambition than anything else. Once the boys (and the parents) let go and move on, college is not such an awful thing.

“Breaking Away” is a feel-good movie and I did leave it with that nice, warm buzzing feeling inside. It did get five nominations at the Academy Awards and won one (Best Screenplay), and it got a big star in my book. You need movies like this. Talking of stars, all four boys went on to have excellent careers in Hollywood. Dennis Quaid probably as the biggest of the them but all four of them have a very long list of movie titles and television shows under the belt. They may have acted before, but “Breaking Away” was also their big break.

Highly recommended.


  1. My mom adores this movie, which means I watched it a lot. There's a lot of nostalgia for me in this movie, and it's a personal favorite.

    There's a reason I use a picture from it when Oscar gets it right.

    1. She could choose a much worse movie to love. This could easily become a favorite of mine as well.
      Did not notice you used a Breaking Away picture for your posts. I will look for it

    2. Here's the latest one that uses it:

    3. Ah, yes, of course. I have seen you use that image a hundred times, just never connected it to this movie.

  2. We are as one on this movie! I love his parents so much! Both of them.

    1. Yes, they are great. Hilarious, but not carricatures

  3. My father LOVED this film. It's one of his favorites not because it's funny but also for the fact that it's that ultimate underdog story as I rooted for the Cutters while I sympathize with the main character who is just trying to find himself but had to face the facts that the Italians aren't great cyclists. To be a great cyclist, it has to be in something that only you have and that is yours. Plus, we Americans cheat a little better than the Italians in cycling unless it involves Cheetah blood.

  4. It is a great underdog story. When Dave finds out that all his heroes, the Cinzano team, his father, all cheat, his bubble bursts. That is heartbreaking but I suppose necessary for him to move on.