Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Breaking Away (1979)

How did this film win an Oscar for best screenplay?

Steve Tesich captured an Acadmey Award in 1980 for penning the script for this sports drama from director Peter Yates (Bullitt).

His script has its moments, and there are some memorable lines of dialogue, but take a look at what other films Breaking Away was up against that year.

All That Jazz, one of Bob Fosse's finest films.

And Justice for All.

The China Syndrome.

And, finally, Woody Allen's Manhatten. Manhatten! It'd be fun to read the newspaper coverage of the day and see if Breaking Away's won was seen as expected or a complete and shocking surprise.

There's nothing really new in this film. Four high school buddies are living aimless lives after getting their diplomas. There's friction between them, residents of Bloomington, Indiana, and the community's well-to-do college kids.

Mike (Dennis Quaid) is the high school quarterback who's angry at just about everybody. He can't bring himself to light the cigarettes he's always sticking in his mouth in case his athletic skills are again needed some way.

Cyril (Daniel Stern) makes some wise observations about the group's future. "I thought that was the whole plan," he suggests to Mike. "I thought we were going to waste the rest of our lives together."

Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) is secretly seeing his girlfriend, Nancy (Amy Wright). Even serious relationswhips with the fairer sex have to be kept hush-hush among the quartet of friends. Moocher and Nancy plan to marry, not that any of his friends would be aware of that fact.

Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) gets the most screen time. He's a cycling fanatic. Stoller is so impressed with Italian racers he adopts an Italian persona. He speaks Italian. Stoller listens to Italian opera arias. He kisses his dad on the cheek.

His obsession with bicycle racing doesn't roll well with his used car salesman father (Paul Dooley). He worked, and ached, when he was in his late teens. Pops expects his father to do the same. Mom (Barbara Barrie) is a little more understanding of her son and encourages him to follow his dreams.

Stoller finds love with Katherine (Robyn Douglas), an attractive college student who's also seeing fraternity hunk Rod (Hart Bochner).

When a dust up between the local teens, or cutters, and college boys erupts, the university president decides Bloomington's youth can take part in an annual race at the school. Viewer, you can start connecting the dots now. Stoller isn't keen to race because that means Katherine will see he's not the Italian exchange student he's supposed to be. Pops starts to gain an appreciation for the tremendous cycling talent his son has. There'll be a neck-and-neck finish between college kids and the cutters. The winner will be......

From one of the great all-time car chases in Bullitt, Yates gets to film two big bicycle races in Breaking Away. There's no jaw-dropping moments here. What does impress is the speed these bikes can travel.

Moocher is in love. Dave and Cyril both have the brains for college. Yep, they're breaking away from the close-knit friendships of their youth. Get it?

Breaking Away boasts an early look at four actors who'd all go on to further success in Hollywood, especially Dennis Quaid. The relationship between Stoller and his parents is touching. Too often in films parents of teens are portrayed as dopes and clueless adults. Not here. David's actions are enough to give his father heart trouble.

"No, I don't feel lucky to be alive. I feel lucky I'm not dead. There's a difference," dad tells mom after a health scare.

Cast members Barrie and Haley went on to appear in a short-lived television follow-up to the film. Teen heart throb Shaun Cassidy (!!!) took over the role of Dave.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Quaid and Christopher also appeared in September 30, 1955.

Breaking Away was Daniel Stern's film debut.

Jackie Earle Haley was in three Bad News Bears films.

Amy Wright was a bridesmaid in The Deer Hunter.

Breaking Away was the only credit for several cast members including the car wash owner (Woody Hueston), anthem singer (Jennifer Nolan), university president (John Ryan) and the "homecoming car kid" (Mike Silvers).

NOT SO FUN FACT: Tesich died of a heart attack in 1996. He was 53.

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