Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

Title: Breaking Away
Release Date: July 13, 1979
Director: Peter Yates
Production Company: 20th Century Fox

Breaking Away was a movie that my mom liked when I was a child and we would end up watching any time it was on tv.  The last time I watched this movie was in 1999 when I was participating in the Boston to New York AIDSRide. Because of a hurricane we spent a night in the New Haven Coliseum and as a treat showed Breaking Away on the jumbotron, because it’s probably one of the best of the few bicycle-themed movies.

Set in Bloomington, Indiana, the movie focuses on Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher), a recent high school graduate who loves bicycle racing and has adopted an Italian identity since he believes Italians are the best cyclists.  When not cycling, Dave hangs out with his friends Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocher (Jackie Earle Hale).  Quaid and Stern are very young at the time this was made and I’ve never before realized that it was them in this film.  The prosperous students at University of Indiana refer to locals like Dave and his friends at “cutters” due to Bloomington’s historical industry of limestone quarrying and stone cutting.

The movie deals with several issues including town vs. gown conflicts, the feeling of directionlessness that comes with being a young adult, and Dave’s conflict with his father Ray (a hilarious performance by Paul Dooley),  a used car dealer who disapproves of Dave’s Italian obsession.  Dave also poses as an Italian exchange student to impress an IU student, Katherine (Robyn Douglass).  Oh and there are some bicycle races, too, but it doesn’t really feel like a sports movie.

It’s hard to describe this movie without it sounding corny.  It’s inspiring but not in the “TV Movie of the Week” kind of way.  It’s funny and sweet but also true to life.  Most of all, it’s disarmingly sincere, right up to the proud onscreen statement that ends the film declaring it was filmed on location in Bloomington.  It’s a unique movie and remains one of my all-time favorites.

Rating: *****