Breaking Away (1979) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Dooley, Barbara Barrie, Robyn Douglass, Hart Bochner, Amy Wright, P.J. Soles
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Steve Tesich
Review published March 23, 2005

A refreshingly different sports movie, never really following a completely conventional path, Breaking Away earned solid critical acclaim back in 1979 (5 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture).  This one delivers almost strictly on charm and the comical performances of the stars, making this one of the more entertaining movies of the year. 

The setting is Bloomington, Indiana, where four lifelong friends have graduated high school and spend their days just hanging out with each other, committed to never break up their friendship or way of life for anything.  This proves tough to do, as the pressures among their parents to get a job, go to college, or start a family mount with every day that passes.  The main character of the film is Dave Stoller, a kooky up-and-coming cyclist who has been driving his livid father absolutely bonkers with his crazy antics, which includes his need to speak and listen to anything Italian, since he admires the Italian cyclists so much.  Instead of working, Dave still hangs out with his buddies, and while he dreams of becoming a world famous cyclist himself, the pressures to stick around in his dead-end town loom large, especially when he meets an attractive college girl he woos while in his Italian persona. 

Breaking Away is more of a coming of age story than it is a sports film, although a big race does dominate the second half of the movie.  Still, the race proves to be quite exciting, thanks in great part to the heavy investment on the characters in Steve Tesich's (The World According to Garp, American Flyers) Academy Award winning script.  The film is full of nice touches here and there, and even if some of the antics encroaches into sitcom-worthy situations, the characterizations always pull the material through without bogging things down by being too clever for its own good.

With an endearing performance by Dennis Christopher (It, Doppelganger) in the lead role, as well as a great supporting cast that includes Dennis Quaid (Dreamscape, Innerspace), Paul Dooley (Runaway Bride, Crazy Little Thing), and an Oscar-nominated role for Barbara Barrie (Private Benjamin, Real Men), there's no shortage of cast chemistry to be found.  Peter Yates (Mother Jugs & Speed, Bullitt) keeps the ambitious material within a natural scope, wisely building up the momentum for the big race in a subtle but effective way.  Winning the race isn't for money or fame, but for the young men to prove to themselves, and all others who doubt them, that they are worth something -- they shouldn't be written off by society just because they are the sons of poor working class parents.

Breaking Away, despite the accolades, is not a great movie in the classic sense, but it has more than enough charm and energy to earn it a place on the all-time favorites list of many who've seen it.  It's an uplifting, bittersweet comic drama that captures the joie de vivre normally associated with films made outside of the Hollywood assembly line, especially European slice-of-life films.  This is a rare feel-good movie that leaves no sour aftertaste, recommended for all.

 Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo