A sunny, goofy, intelligent movie, "Breaking Away" is a treasure audiences still discover and love. Unlike movies that insult the intelligence, this little film about four kids coming of age in Bloomington, IN, recalls being just out of high school and messing around for one last summer before facing big choices - jobs, college, or the Army. Dave (Christopher) wants to be an Italian bike racer. His friends' ambitions are more reasonable: Mike (Quaid), a football star, pretends he doesn't want to play college ball - but he does; another, Moocher (Haley), pretends he doesn't want to be taller - but he does, and another, Cyril (Stern), is a kid who speaks a bit too well and is full of smart come-backs.
Bloomington's town-and-gown tensions between its jocks and townies - called "cutters," in Bloomington, after workers at its quarries - are as poignant as the tension between local guys and college girls, as Dave finds, when he falls hopelessly for Kathy (Douglass), somehow convincing her he's an Italian exchange student.
Dave's father (Dooley) rants that he didn't raise his son to be "an Eye-talian," and that he's sick and tired of "all the ee-nees" in the house -- linguini and fettucini. But Dave's parents are loving and funny; not every movie has parents and kids at odds with each other.
Directed with love by Peter Yates, the film was written by Yugoslavian Steve Tesich, who moved to Bloomington at 13, won the Little 500 bicycle race in 1962, and uses that race as the film's climax. Yates focuses on human elements, as we see in a sequence with Dave on his racing bike dueling a truck at high speed. In several scenes, Yates suggests a constant possibility of sudden tragedy, yet none happens. But the hints of one make the characters humanly vulnerable and precious.
The whole movie delicately balances near-fantasy with character development and heartbreaking scenes, such as the school quarterback's monologue about his future. But the movie returns to comedy, romance, and wonderful, evocative nostalgia. "Breaking Away" is about three-dimensional, complicated, decent people, realistic optimists, and basically comic characters - a Middle America we rarely see in the movies - but it isn't cornym and doesn't condescend. Movies like this are hardly ever made; when they are, they're precious cinematic miracles.
Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Dooley, Barbara B
Breaking Away, bicycle racing, family movies, Bloomington
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