I went into Peter Yates’ Breaking Away thinking it would just be another coming-of-age/cheer-for-the-underdog sports films, a la Chariots of Fire. I ended it thinking I had just seen yet another coming-of-age film slash cheer-for-the-underdog sports film. If you didn’t notice, my opinion of it did not change very much after seeing the film. I went into it with expectations, and every one of them were met exactly. Now, normally I’d be boohooing the film for not doing anything to exceed said expectations, but Breaking Away seems to be the kind of film that is content with getting by on its own merits. That’s fine, but held up against other list films, it does diminish the impact of this one significantly.
Dave Stoller lives in a small Indiana town with his three friends, generally living life and remaining unsure of what to do with it. His one passion is cycling, and he has formed a fixation with a team of famous Italian cyclists, so much so that he acts Italian and even speaks the language in his house, much to the chagrin of his father. An opportunity arises after a fight with the local fraternity for Dave, and by proxy his friends, to show their stuff in a local bicycle race, and anybody who’s even remotely heard of this film or any of its feel-good brethren knows how it turns out. I don’t know what exactly I wanted out of this one, but when it was over, I wasn’t sure I had gotten it. It was billed as a coming-of-age drama, but there wasn’t too much to that, and the root-for-the-underdogs aspect doesn’t really come into play until the final act of the story either. So, what was this one? It was nice, and a good throwback for an era in a town both gone by, but there wasn’t anything special about it. I did have a couple notes about the cast, though; Dennis Christopher, who stars as Dave, looked an awful lot like a late-70s Michael Cera, only one who could act a little better, and I will also say that actor Paul Dooley may have cranked the ham factor a little too high in his role as Dave’s dad, as he was a constant irritation not because he was a stern fatherly figure, but in being an overly bombastic “NOW, SON, YOU’RE GOING TO SHAPE UP, OR I’M GOING TO SCOFF AND THROW MY HANDS IN THE AIR” caricature of a stern fatherly figure.
When this was over, I actually went to Wikipedia and looked up the films that were nominated for Best Picture that year, knowing Breaking Away was one of them, just to see what had been passed over in favor of this film. I noted the particular lack of a nomination for Alien, and pretty much instantly settled on wishing I could personally swap those two films out for each other. This was okay, but not anywhere near Best Picture material; not even a nomination. This is probably another good example of a film I would’ve appreciated a little better had I seen it near the beginning of my quest instead of near the end, where I’ve already seen handfuls of other films just like it. Even with trying to hold this up on its own merits, however, I still found I wasn’t holding up very much.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10