Saturday, February 1, 2014

EPISODE 1 REVIEW: Breaking Away

Breaking Away - 1979
Director: Peter Yates
Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern

When you’re watching a film that’s older than you, there has to be an understanding that there are going to be references and ideas and just an overall culture that you have to accept were tolerable back then. The world was different and if you watch it like a movie that just came out in theaters, you’re most likely going to be disappointed. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my day and I’d like to think I have a handle on this. I still am disappointed from time to time, but I at least can put the elements together with the time period. That being said, I have NO clue how 1979’s Breaking Away could have possibly won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I’m…just stumped here.

Despite being made in 1979, Breaking Away is a coming-of-age 80’s movie. Everyone has feathered hair and the whole thing climaxes in a race that ultimately changes nothing. It’s an 80’s movie. It centers on four kids who are well out of high school and walk the streets of Bloomington, Indiana with no clue what to do with their lives. Ridiculed by the local college kids for being losers who think they own the place, Dave, Mike, Cyril, and Moocher waste their days complaining to each other about a life they wish they had but don’t want to do anything about as they claim public property, drive around really fast in their car and…basically live up to being losers who think they own the place.

Dave learning key Italian phrases like "I promise I'll be out
in a month, dad, just as soon as my Social Security kicks in."
Breaking Away eventually settles down on the only member of the quartet with a skill, Dave. Dave has a passion for competitive bike racing, specifically the Italian team, so much so that he’s started to embrace all the wonders of the cliché Italian: the snobby attitude, the odd love of extremely loud opera music, and the insatiable desire to put at least uno Italiano word in every sentence just to drive home that he belongs. Nobody likes this (including me), especially his father, who generally loathes his son’s existence because let’s face it, if you’re a worthless Jersey Shore wannabe living at home not doing anything with your life, it’s easy to be disappointed and fear that this phase is never going to end.

But the movie is called Breaking Away, not Accepting That You Just Suck so, naturally, something is going to steer Dave away from this lifestyle (and forget the other three characters, they stopped mattering ages ago) and because it’s an 80’s movie (honest), that’s going to be an epic race! And with the Italians! While in this epic bike race (it’s like 10 minutes through Bloomington, Indiana so…don’t set the bar too high in your mind), Dave is actually able to keep up with his favorite Italian team, who quickly responds by jamming a pipe in his tire. This causes him to crash and awake with a newfound realization that snobby, self-righteous Italians are just generally bad people and he should probably do something more with his life than talk with an over-exaggerated accent and use it to flirt with girls.

I missed something here. This film is on AFI’s list of Most Inspiring Movies but the only thing I was inspired to do was watch anything else to get this boring, dry, and generally lazy feeling crap out of my head. I went and looked back at other movies that came out in 1979 and I haven’t seen most of them so I’m going to just say that it was a slow year so mediocrity gets to shine! Hooray mediocrity! Was this the first of its kind? Is that what I’m struggling with here? Was this the first movie that took a band of misfits, stuck them amongst a group of like-aged peers who didn’t accept them and said “if you do anything that is worth some sort of feeling of accomplishment, the world can look past your otherwise depressing existence?” Was this a thing in 1979?

Friend 1, Friend 2, and Friend 3
What’s worse is that at the end, Dave falls for a French girl and his last line is him speaking French to his dad. He’s learned nothing! There’s nothing here that tells me he’s not going to suddenly embrace all the wonders of the cliché Frenchman and there will be a sequel to this movie called You Know, There’s Just No Helping Some People. And what happened to Mike, Cyril and Moocher? They should have just been listed as “Friend 1,” “Friend 2,” and “Friend 3” in the credits.

All in all, I was bored here, uninspired, if you will. If there was a phase going on back in the late 70’s where this was the norm and this film was some sort of guiding light to get teenagers out of a worthless rut…I fail to see how it could have succeeded, especially considering that Star Wars was hitting the mainstream at this time. Nothing screams “going and playing outside with friends and riding a bicycle is overrated while living in your parent’s house with a twisted obsession for something that does nothing to help you move forward in life is cool” like Star…oh…suddenly I understand this movie.

Whatever, still bored, still sucked, still stumped on the whole Best Original Screenplay thing. Oh…it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical Film too? Did I miss a song and dance after the credit roll ‘cause it certainly wasn’t a comedy… That’s it, now I’m going to be pondering that all day. I need to break away. But not before shoving 5 dustbusters in your bike tire. 


  1. maybe you're looking at this from the wrong perspective... maybe 80s movies are actually just late 70s holdovers. feathered hair was definitely a 70s thing and stuck around. so this was the forefront of the 80s coming-of-age film, and obviously it was a test run. that won an academy award.

  2. I am actually old enough to have seen this one during its original run in theaters and at the time I remember having fond memories of it. Flash forward to just a couple of years ago when I saw it on TV for the first time since '79 - the memories don't hold up so well.

    While it's still an ok drama (I could never understand why it was labeled a comedy), the situation feels a bit contrived and clichéd and honestly...nothing happens. For the time I think it was appreciated because it was an "angst" film that wasn't focused on sex and violence but instead tried to be quaint and optimistic. Maybe I'm jaded now, but it doesn't work for me now like it did back in '79.

    On a side note, I'd completely forgotten that Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earle Haley were in it, it was interesting to seem them in early roles.

    1. It was kind of wild to see Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern as younguns. So teensy! Just like their roles in this...

  3. Ah, I should have seen it that way! It's not a coming of age for the characters, it was a coming of age for the coming of age genre! 70's become 80's! American Graffiti becomes Better Off Dead! Mallside Plutonium stores now all the rage! It's crazy I tell ya! CRAZY!!!! :)