Movie review: Breaking Away
Reviewed by Gerti
I’ll start by explaining that I checked this movie out of the library because I wanted my daughter to see how lovely the IU Bloomington campus is. I found myself transported back to the late ‘70s, with all the terrible clothing choices and poufy hair, and yet… It was wonderfully nostalgic. Hobart doesn’t have a town/gown tension, but I could easily imagine it in such towns as Valparaiso and South Bend. Film writer Steve Tesich captured that drama perfectly, and Patrick Williams music was memorable. Peter Yates directed the 1979 film.
But what I found most charming was the story of the 4 friends, so-called “cutters”, who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Several of the young actors are now famous, including Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern. The hero of the story, Dave, is virtually unknown (to me) actor Dennis Christopher, who is a delight as a youth obsessed with cycling, and therefore with anything Italian. He worships the Cinzano bicycle racing team, and that manifests itself in a tendency to use Italian when speaking (much to the frustration of his father, who wonders why his son is talking like an “I-tie”) and a newfound love of opera and Italian food. Dave’s mother catches the bug, and uses it to inject a little romance back into her life with her former stone-cutter, now used car salesman husband.
Dave pretends to be an Italian foreign student when he catches the attention of a lovely co-ed at IU, but of course that is doomed to fail. In the final scenes, we see him start speaking French, as another gorgeous foreign student asks his help. But the main drama of the story lies during the Little 500, a bicycle race held in Bloomington which Dave and his friends enter in order to show up the IU cycling team. Dave has a lot of setbacks – the actual Italian team causes him to fall off his bike during another race, so he must rebuild a new, rattier bike his friends have gotten him. He also wrecks during the Little 500, but (the point of the story) his friends rally and even though they’re not great riders, they keep going so that when he’s patched up from his injury, he can get back in and win.
If you can get over the bad quality of the film, the bad hair and the repulsive fashions, “Breaking Away” will charm you. It will remind you of your days trying to “break away” from your parent’s house, and their expectations of you. Some of the parents expect their kids to fail, others to succeed. But the boys here eventually get to the psychological point where it doesn’t matter what their parents think of them – they are going to do what they love. For Dave, it’s finally go to college on the IU campus, where his father once cut the limestone for the impressive buildings. This movie shows how each of us gets past the previous generation, and learns to travel our own paths. A sports film that gets beyond successful cycling and keeps going on sheer heart, just like the boys in the Little 500. Will make you want to head down to Bloomington for the race…