Classic Film | Issue 2

Classic Film | Issue 2

Breaking Away (1979)

Director: Peter Yates

What happens if you just don’t know what you’re supposed to do with your life? Breaking Away is a funny, intelligent, uplifting, and at times heartbreaking coming-of-age film that attempts to answer this question for a group of four high school graduates. Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay (Steve Tesich), and nominated for Best Director (Peter Yates), Best Original Score (Patrick Williams), and Best Motion Picture Comedy in 1980, there is much to love about this film, not least the sharply-observed humour and the exceptional acting delivered from a then-little-known cast.

The strength of Breaking Away lies in the outstanding characterisation of the four young disaffected friends, struggling with identity issues and the perpetual, resonating question of what to do with the rest of their lives. Set in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana, Dennis Christopher stars as Dave, a gifted cyclist, whose intense idolisation of the Cinzano cycling team leads him to assume a pseudo-Italian identity. Along with his friends, Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocha (Jackie Earle Haley), Dave is stuck in limbo. A myriad of tensions exist within the campus town, between different generations as well as between the working-class “cutters” (those born in Bloomington to parents who once cut the limestone used to build the University) and the constant influx of affluent university students. As Mike laments says, “Cutters – to them it’s just a dirty word. To me it’s just something else I never got to be.”

Although the underlying story follows a predictable plot, the superb script still serves up some big surprises. Breaking Away is more than just a charming teenage tale of self-discovery; it’s also a compelling and superbly shot cycling film. And, as with all great sports films, “… you’re gonna need a montage”. And Breaking Away delivers some truly outstanding cycling montages. If you are now even just a little bit intrigued, I would recommend watching this film even for the cycling scenes. It’s what cleverly connects all the film’s elements as one.

– Jane Ross
This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2012.
Posted 4:53pm Sunday 4th March 2012 by Jane Ross.