Breaking Away (1979)


Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern (his debut), Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Dooley, Barbara Barrie, Robyn Douglass (her film debut)

Director: Peter Yates

Summary: Working-class teens compete with a college cycling team from Indiana University

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Barrie), Original Screenplay*, Song Score

In some ways, this is a very by-the-book kind of movie that has been done to death: we have a group of underdogs (this time working-class kids from a college town) who have been antagonized by the douchebag rich kids who look down on the poors and now a sporting event comes along that gives the underdogs the opportunity to show they’re just as good or better than the jerks who are the big favorites to win the event. This definitely hurts the movie, but it’s one of the better versions of this story that I’ve seen because the characters have some charm and there’s a little more under the hood than most. The movie focuses on this “end of high-school, will the main character become like his dad and work with his hands or will he go to college” storyline that works because the interactions between the son (Christopher) and father (Dooley) are very good and feel genuine, and the group dynamics between the working-class high school kids who have always stuck together but look like they might go their separate ways is well-done. Finally, as is crucial to any good sports movie, the end bike race is great and I loved how they did the final couple of laps of the race as a single unbroken take, as it made it feel more like you were watching something real vs. a movie and I got really into it.

Beyond the general premise being tired and every college kid being awful, preppy jerks (which would work better in a broad comedy than a film trying to take itself seriously), the main character for the first half of the film grated on me a bit because he’s obsessed with Italy and uses a fake Italian accent around everyone. I get why he did it (he wants to be someone else, not a simple kid from a working-class family), but he came off as really annoying for a while; that, and somehow his sort-of girlfriend actually thought he was Italian which was hilarious to me.

Overall: Even with its well-worn premise, it’s a solid movie that has some good character moments and a really good ending race

Rating: B-


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