Breaking Away ★★★★★

I watched this again this weekend, inevitable now that I've been watching Tour de France and pootling around on my bicycle.

I first watched it a few years ago and reviewed it for my blog along with a few other 'cycling films'. I paste that review below.

What I will say is that I loved this film just as much the second time round. All the bits I remembered loving about it - and there are many, which float into my mind more often than other films I've seen multiple times - were just as good as I'd remembered, and there's very little else in the way of cruft or anything to detract from the simple pleasure of this film. I love it.

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Breaking Away – which earns a very respectable 7.7/10 on IMDb, and a frankly staggering 94% on Rotten Tomatoes – is a film I'd never have heard of, were it not for the name appearing on several 'best cycling movies ever' lists on the web. This anonymity is despite the critical acclaim the movie received when it came out in 1979, and the reputation it holds now.

It also stars a few familiar faces, including a young, rather buff Dennis Quaid, who I last saw in Bradley Cooper movie The Words just the other day. There's also a sweet, early performance from the lankier, dopier of the two wet sticky bandits from the first two Home Alone films.

A lot of the film's charm comes from hero Dave Stoller's infatuation with Italian cycling racers. We see him on the one hand hanging out with his slacker buddies at the local quarry, and on the other tearing round his hometown on a road bike singing Italian tunes and trying to seduce local college girls with a pretty decent impersonation of a gelato salesman.

Of course, this is an American coming-of-age movie, so our hero and his buddies are a gaggle of “cutters” – poorer sons of the stone cutting industry that puts dinner on the tables of most of the town's residents. But, this being a college town, the place is overrun with jocks and dickheads who get all the smart, beautiful girls, and just want to make the cutters' lives a living hell.

There's also the inevitable subplot of Stoller's faltering relationship with his father – who, after contemplating his cycling mad son's recent penchant for singing Italian music, stumbles on him, “shaving…his legs.”

The film culminates in a classic battle of cutters v. jocks – in a cycling race, of course.

I love a good coming-of-age drama, but the fact that this lovely movie – which won an Academy Award for its screenplay – makes excellent use of cycling not just as a gimmick but a core plot device really made it all the sweeter. In fact, apart from one brief goof, all the cycling in the film is, if not 100% accurate, certainly very believable.

The cast are obviously decent cyclists, and Dennis Christopher's Stoller, his bedroom walls lined with posters of his idols, is at least as good as they are. In one memorable scene which sees Stoller come side-by-side with the formidable Cinzano racing team, we really believe he is one of the best road racers around.

But it's not just decent editing creating an illusion – Christopher seems completely at home on his bike, and several of my favourite scenes in the film are simply of his Stoller pootling around town or local wooded lanes on his trusty machine, completely in his element.

Breaking Away is a wonderful little film, just as appealing to cycling nuts as it is to fans of sweet coming-of-age comedy dramas.

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