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Steve Tesich's Breaking Away: Bicycle racing's best and only breakout movie

Dec 8, 2000 (Updated May 11, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:bike racing, feel good movie

Cons:a smidgen of sappiness

The Bottom Line: Several stirring action scenes, the occasional poignant moment, undercut only slightly by slightly oversweet ending.

Not only some of the most exciting bicycle racing scenes ever filmed, but also a stirring and sometimes heartbreaking account of a time of decision in four young men's lives.

Where I give away stuff about the movie, I allude to it during the review, and all the details are at the bottom of the review, so I don't spoil it for you.

Breaking Away is in my top 5 film list. I saw the movie the first time because I was insanely interested in bicycle racing (insane because where I live, it's good cycling weather about 3 or 4 months of the year), and I can still remember the rush during certain scenes (note 1). I think the screenplay and direction are very good, very real. Aside from the ending (note 2), I don't think there's a phony scene in the entire movie.

The movie centres on a group of four friends, Moocher, Cyril (Daniel Stern), Mike (Dennis Quaid, who simmers nicely throughout the movie) and Dave (Dennis Christopher). They've decided to take the summer off after high school to decide what to do with their lives. Each one has dreams. Cyril wanted to play basketball in college, but didn't get the scholarship. Mike was quarterback in high school, and still thinks he is better than the college players. Why he's not there is not clear. Moocher wants to go to Chicago and open a store with his dad.

Which leaves Dave. Dave's not sure what he wants to do. He's smart enough to get into college, but doesn't want to leave his friends behind. During the summer, he falls in love with everything Italian, renaming his cat after an Italian racer, learning to speak Italian, and pretending to be an Italian exchange student to woo a college student.

Breaking Away is a bicycling term, where a lead group breaks contact with the bigger group of other racers. If you go out too early, or don't have the stamina or desire, the bigger group reels you in and spits you out the other side.

The term Breaking Away is relevant for Dave in his life as well, as he agonizes over breaking free of childhood, where you can remain friends forever. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Dennis Christopher play as good and as vital a role as Dave Stoler.

The final race, against college students that have belittled him and his friends, is a coming of age for all four friends. This might be the last time they have together, before college, marriage, and working life take them away from each other.

In a way, Breaking Away is like Rocky, in that both are about small heroes attempting to break free of what other people think you're capable of.

Among bicycle racing movies, this is the best, in my opinion. Dustin Hoffman was supposed to do a movie called The Yellow Jersey, about an aging bicycle racer trying to win the Tour De France, but that fell through. American Flyers, written by Steve Tesich (who also wrote Breaking Away) is only a pale shadow of Breaking Away, probably because Kevin Costner was forced to wear a moustache.

I don't want to leave you all with the impression that Breaking Away is turgid but uplifting. There are a lot of really funny moments, and sometimes caustic humour in the movie. (note 3)

This is a really feel good movie all 'round. Except for the college student leader (overplayed a tad by the evil Hart Bochner), everyone is either a good guy, or obviously has some good in them. (I feel like Luke Skywalker here "I feel good in you, father. I know it").

If you like Breaking Away, you'll probably like Rocky, or Chariots of Fire. Or Jericho's Mile (a made for TV movie with Peter Strauss). All athletic stories, with the heroes surmounting odds to triumph. I also liked "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" as well.

As to who would enjoy this movie, I think it would appeal to the teenager set, as well as twenty-somethings. Give it as a gift to that bookish loner, and watch them eat it up.



Note 1:
There's a scene where Dave Stoler trails a transport truck that's amazing. The delight of the transport driver is what made the scene work for me. There's also a few shots of a bike racing peloton on a circuit that are beautiful to behold.

Note 2:
The song at the end of the movie is just a little bit too syrupy for my liking, although it may be that the little 500 has that song played at the end of each year's race, and it's there for realism.

Note 3:
"We cutters few. College palefaces many. I counsel peace" said Cyril (or something like that)....or...
"Cyril, how'd you get to be so stupid?" says Mike
"I don't know, Mike. Stupid heredity or something. What's your excuse?" says Cyril.

Recommend this product? Yes

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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 a...
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