Summer of Sports Films: Breaking Away

Breaking Away illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

Breaking Away – 1979

Dir: Peter Yates | Starring: Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher, Daniel Stern, Paul Dooley, Jackie Earl Haley

Sport: Bicycle Racing


A group of 19-something townies are living an idle existence between adolescence and adulthood within the shadows of the University of Indiana. They desperately hang onto their last teenage year before the expectations and pressures from their families will become all too much for them to pass the days away swimming in the quarry or just cruising around Bloomington. Dave Stoller finds a purpose within his bicycle and is aiming to be a racing champion like his Italian heroes; when the University decides to allow a local non-student team to enter into their annual race it becomes a watershed moment for everyone in his life.

Coming of age films are a genre almost unto themselves but this belongs in the high echelons with films like Stand by Me and American Graffiti. This is a sublime film. The direction, acting, script (Best Screenplay Oscar), and characters are all so organic that the entire film just breathes-into you like an experience you are actively taking part of. Sports is woven into this picture far beyond the base bike racing of the central character, it’s a presence that finds it way into every character in the film at different depths and with its own unique history. The authenticity and accuracy of these characters is what makes the film sing and it’s in a tune that I would imagine would be agreeable to many generations of Americans well beyond its 1979 setting.

Its unfortunate that the massive yield of teenage angst films harvested in the 1980’s may have drowned out this picture from the history books. I give this my utmost recommendation.

It should be noted that this film has one of the greatest movie Dads of all time – bravo Paul Dooley!

This trailer is a bit hokey and feels like those weird re-edited trailers you see for a movie just before it starts on local TV:


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