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Breaking Away

Breaking Away
The director of Bullitt and the writer of The World According to Garp are the creative forces behind Breaking Away, a warm and exuberant slice of cinematic Americana that so effectively draws the viewer into this engaging coming of age tale that it actually earned four Oscar nominations including Best Picture of 1979.

The setting is the small industrial town of Bloomington, Indiana where we meet Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher), a recent high school graduate who after receiving an expensive Italian bycycle as gift, becomes completely immersed in Italian culture, learning to speak the language, changing his name, and following the exploits of the current Italian cycling team. Steve's new obsession not only his confusing his parents (Paul Dooley, Barbara Barrie). but building a wall between him and his BFF's Mike (Dennis Quaid), Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley), and Cyril (Daniel Stern, in his film debut).

Steve Tesich's Oscar-winning screenplay is a beautiful blend of small town sensibilities, clashing cultures, and the lines that often get drawn between the upper class and working class that often put people on opposite sides of issues which they should be battling together. It's a little disconcerting watching Dave push his best friends away because of his new obsession at a time when they really need him. An angry Mike seems to be aimless since his days as a football hero are over and Moocher seems to be getting ready to marry his girlfriend because he has to (though the screenplay never documents this).

Dave's Italian obsession also seems to be creating a gulf between his parents that provides a solid subplot for the story as his father gets fed up and Mom just tries to understand. I was also surprised by the fact that there were, not one, but two big races in this story and though it's a heartbreaker when Dave gets knocked out of the first one, we are thrilled with a chance for redemption (though it's not a slam dunk and kept this reviewer on the edge of his seat).

Director Peter Yates has provided a postcard canvas for this vivid and exciting story that earned him an Oscar nomination as well. The film is beautifully photographed and the camerawork, especially during the races, is exceptional. For a lot of actors near the beginning of their careers, there are some really star-making performances bringing this story to life. Dennis Christopher is completely beguiling as Dave and Dennis Quaid easily hints at the actor he would become with his charismatic Mike. Paul Dooley is brilliant, as always, as Dave's father and Barbara Barrie's quietly eloquent mom earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. A shout out as well to Patrick Williams for his Oscar-nominated adaptation of some of the most beautiful Italian music ever created to serve the film's score. A surprising and emotionally-charged motion picture.