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BREAKING AWAY is a winning coming-of-age story with unusually well drawn characters, smart social commentary, and a terrific ensemble of fresh-faced actors soon to be famous. The rivalry between townies and college kids sets the scene for the story of four friends trying to figure out their future after high school graduation in Bloomington, Indiana. Raised together in the working-class quarry town, the boys consider themselves Cutters, proud of their father's heritage as limestone workers in the once prosperous factory town. But there is no future for the boys as Cutters, and not one of them has plans for college. So now that Mike (Dennis Quaid) is no longer a star quarterback, Moocher (Jackie Earl Haley) can't decide if he wants to break up or marry his girlfriend, and quick-witted Cyril (Daniel Stern) can no longer play the class clown, they have no idea what to do with themselves. Luckily, avid cyclist Dave (Dennis Christopher) knows exactly what he wants. He aspires to be one of the world's best bicyclists. There's only one obstacle: The leading racers are Italian, and Dave is not. A romantic dreamer, he races around his hometown, singing opera, speaking in an Italian accent, and stumping his parents with his newfangled Italian ways. When his affair with Katherine (an Italian exchange student) evokes jealousy from a few big boys on campus, Dave decides that a bike race is the only way to settle the score and prove that Cutters are not losers. The film features a remarkable performance from character actor Paul Dooley, who shines as Dave's befuddled and frustrated working-class father. Screenwriter Steve Tesich's script is an intelligent and humorous masterpiece, full of subtle humor and insightful dialogue. All the components combine to make one of the most charming comedies of all time.
Peter Yates's flag-waving film stands with To Kill a Mockingbird and American Graffiti as one of the best films about small-town Americana. Steve Tesich won an Oscar for his semi-biographical screenplay about four 19-year-olds who don't know what to do after high school. Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher) and his three friends--ex-football star Mike (Dennis Quaid), wily comedian Cyril (Daniel Stern), and tough kid Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley)--are doomed to live in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, where the local kids (nicknamed "Cutters"--a derogatory reference to quarry workers and their blue-collar families) are looked down on by the uppity students of nearby Indiana University.
Stohler escapes into a world of Italian bicycling, picking up the lingo, the accent, and a good share of the talent of his heroes. He is also the scourge of his father's life. The used-car salesman (Paul Dooley) doesn't understand his son's affection for bicycling or, for that matter, his pride in being a "Cutter."
Breaking Away rehabilitates the word heartwarming as Tesich's uncommonly intelligent script gives us well-rounded characters and a potent sense of place. The grandstanding finale--the real life "Little 500" bike race--gives the film a perfect, crowd-pleasing end. However, the film never sacrifices the development of characters for the action. Dooley is especially effective in one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles. The lifelong character actor's place in film history is established with this indispensable performance. --Doug Thomas
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Two of the four had ideas for college athletics, but are aimless now that their high school careers are over and do not provide structure. There are several excellent scenes depicting their confusion and disappointment over what to do next. My favorite is when the four are watching Indiana football practice. Ex-football player Dennis Quaid still keeps in shape, and he says that he can't bring himself to light the cigarettes he keeps in his mouth because he can't get give up his opinion that he was a pretty good high school quarterback and should be on the college gridiron. Now he's just "20-yr old Mike". Eventually he will be just "30-yr old Mike" and then just "40-yr old Mike". Every year there will be new contenders for starting quarterback, and "every year it's not gonna be me." Daniel Stern, as Cyril, has to overcome his dad's low expectations and too-willing acceptance of failure even though Cyril is a talented person.
Meanwhile, Dave, like many adolescents, has a silly, romantic ideas of what he will become. He decides to transform into an Italian because his passion is cycling, and because he believes Italians are the best cyclists then he should become Italian too. Dave is played by Dennis Christopher, who was raised Catholic in Philadelphia and has a real last name of Carelli. So Dave adopts an accent, listens to Italian opera and language records, calls the family cat "Fellini", and teachse his parents about supposed Italian family values from what seem to be the 1920s. His dad is adamant as he addresses the cat: "Your name is Jake, dammit!"
Dave's struggle with and eventual reconciliation with his dad provides about half of the movie and comedy. His dad, who is no great role model himself, has conflicting ideas of what Dave should become, The dad does not realize that he is silly himself with what he does and should expect more from Dave. The actors, Paul Dooley as the father and Dennis Christopher as Dave, are so convincing that according to IMDB they have played father and son on three occasions! The father is the funniest person in the movie; so funny that you forget the poignancy of what is happening. Several scenes are so unforgettable that I still think of them, for example when I hear the word "Refund!". After you see the movie you might do the same.
Another theme, already alluded to, is that of the townies vs college kids. A colleague of mine used to live in Bloomington, and she says this rivalry is profound. The four are able to fight back against the college kids by representing the townies in the the "little 500", a bike race which is a huge event on IU's campus. Apparently IU has built a new stadium for this race because it is so popular.
Oh yes, this is also an underdog movie about athletics, in this case cycling. We see Dave's cycling career cycle up and down throughout the movie, culminating in The Big Race, the "little 500."
Two of the actors, Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern, were up and coming, while one, Jackie Earle Hailey, had seen better days as Kelly Leak in "Bad News Bears" although he still gets roles. According to IMDB, Dennis Christopher has had a productive career mainly on television.
This movie has a very wide appeal and is suitable for high schoolers and adults alike. I think it would be especially good for adolecents as they struggle with their identity. There is profanity and a few things about about girls that adolescent boys would say, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is one of those fine movies that gets overlooked but is a wonderful discovery.
Obviously, this was a cheaply done DVD release by Fox of a film that deserves a deluxe special edition. Besides the lack of extras, interviews, and audio commentary, I could not believe the poor sound quality of the DVD digital transfer: street scenes, crowd scenes, etc. sounded like they were recorded in a digital bucket! We had to turn down the sound during the pivotal Little 500 scene, because the digital garbage was so annoying.
Having seen this many times on tape, I know that the sound of this low-budget film was not always good, but it was never horrible until this cheap digital mastering. Fortunately it does not completely ruin the experience of this wonderful film, but I wouldn't be in any hurry to replace a VHS tape with this DVD!
Fox, fix your mistake and treat this film properly!
But having an affinity for things Italian or for bike racing is not necessary in order to enjoy this 25-year-old classic. What is necessary is an appreciation for small things and memories about the mysterious period between adolescence and adulthood. If that describes you, then chances are you'll enjoy this touching film.
Amid the praise I should say that the DVD package is only average: the original trailer and teaser are there, but it would have been nice to have some commentary from director Peter Yates, some of the actors, or from critics who were fans of the film. A "Making of Breaking Away" mini feature would have also been a welcome addition.
One note: Breaking Away is a very American film, and so I'm not so sure how much of it will hit home with foreign viewers.
This is not just a "feel-good-coming-of-age" story. This FILM is a profound and intelligent comedy of an inner search for an identity. What self-aware human being hasn't confronted the blinding journey of the Self? Should I go to college and major in Business? Or should I become an Italian and race bicycles? Heck, I'm in my forties and sometimes I still don't know who I am.
PAPA (WORRYING ABOUT DAVE)-played hilariously by Paul Dooley.
"He's gonna be a bum, Evelyn... An Italian bum."
Everyone in this FILM is searching. Except for maybe Moocher. Socrates would have loved this movie.
MAMA (WAXING PHILOSOPHICAL)-played brilliantly by Barbara Barrie.
"I think you should come home singing... with a trophy. Do all those things while you can."
Everytime I see this FILM, the tears well because I knew every single one of these guys growing up and I always fell in love with the girl I couldn't have.
DAVE (IN THE PANGS OF AMORE)-impeccably played by Dennis Christopher.
"I have such a pain in my heart, mama. I'm in love."
THE WHOLE CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM ARE AMAZING. AND I HOPE THEY ALL READ THIS.
DENNIS CHRISTOPHER!! BELLISSIMA!! BELLISSIMA!!
I have a great sentiment for this FILM and as soon as I get my copy I'm heading straight to MAMA's house to watch it with her. This FILM is to AMERICAN CINEMA, as THE BEACHBOYS are to AMERICAN ROCK AND ROLL. Good vibrations, bambina!!
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