is a 1979 Dramedy
directed by Peter Yates and starring Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern.
In Bloomington, Indiana, Dave Stoller (Christopher) and his friends Mike (Quaid), a former star high school quarterback, Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley), who's kind but with a Hair-Trigger Temper
, and Cyril (Stern), a lovable loser, mostly hang out at the local swimming hole. They can't afford to go to college (the local college is Indiana University), and they're looked down on by the students, who call Dave and his friends "cutters" (they're sons of the stone cutters who built the buildings at the university). The cutters in turn, especially Mike, have a chip on their shoulder involving the college students.
Dave, however, is different in some ways from his friends. He was a sickly boy until he started riding around on a bicycle, and has since become a championship racer. He's also become obsessed with the Italian race team, to the point where he starts acting Italian
, to the bemusement of his mother Evelyn (Barbara Barrie) and the consternation of his father Ray (Paul Dooley), a used car salesman. It's also to the point where Dave passes himself off as an Italian exchange student when he becomes attracted to Katharine (Robyn Douglass), a student at the university. Dave is especially excited when he hears the Italian team is coming to Indiana for a major bicycle race. He's less excited when the cutters get entered into the Indiana University Little 500 bicycle race, but events soon change his mind about that.
The movie won an Academy Award
for Best Original Screenplay, and was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (for Barrie) and Best Adapted Score. While it was well received by critics, it wasn't a big hit at the box office, but it has become a favorite over the years, usually showing up on lists of best sports movies and most inspirational movies.
This film contains examples of:
- Berserk Button: Do not, under any circumstances, make fun of Moocher's height. Especially don't call him "Shorty".
- Don't invade Mike's swimming hole.
- Don't serve Ray any "ini" food. And above all, don't tell him he should give a refund for a bad car (REFUND?!?).
- The Big Race: Both the race Dave has with the Italian team, and the Little 500 race at the end.
- Break the Cutie: What happens to Dave at his race with the Italian team; they cheat by crippling his bike and causing him to crash.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Everyone thinks Dave has become this, but he really isn't; he's more of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
Neighbor: He used to be as normal as pumpkin pie. Now look at him. His poor parents.
- Coming of Age Story: For Dave.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mike and Cyril both exhibit this, as does Evelyn.
- Death Glare: After the Cutters and college kids have a fight, the college kids are chewed out by the university president, who tells them if they want to compete against the Cutters, they can do so at the Little 500 race. When Rod protests the Cutters aren't good enough, Mike's cop brother fixes him with a death glare.
- Must be genetic; Mike gives one of these when he first sees the college kids at his swimming hole.
- Determinator: Dave doesn't let any injury stop him from competing in the race. He even has his friends tape his feet onto the pedals so he can't fall!
- Double Meaning Title: Breaking Away is a bicycling term. But it also applies to the four guys trying to decide what to do with their lives.
- Enforced Method Acting: When Katharine slaps Dave in the face after he tells her the truth about who he is, Robyn Douglass (according to Word of God) accidentally slapped Dennis Christopher for real, and the look on his face is genuine.
- Fake Nationality: In-universe; as mentioned above, Dave pretends he's an Italian exchange student named Enrico when he first meets Katharine, and he either speaks Italian or English in an Italian accent.
- Gratuitous Italian: Dave, though again, it's justified, as he's been obsessed with Italy ever since he won an Italian racing bike.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Mike definitely feels jealous of the college kids.
- Hypocritical Humor:
Ray: He used to be a smart kid. I thought he was going to college.
Evelyn: You said you didn't want him to go to college.
Ray: Well, why should he go to college?
- I Have No Son: A rather funny version of this trope; Dave helps his father out at his car lot, and when a customer tries to return a car that doesn't work, and Ray won't take it back, Dave suggests maybe they should. Ray says to Dave, "Who are you?"
- Earlier in the movie, Ray is trying to sell a car to a customer when Dave rides by and shouts a greeting to Ray. Ray turns to the customer and says, "Friend of yours?"
- Insult Backfire:
Mike: (referring to the college kids) They're gonna keep calling us "cutters". To them, it's just a dirty word. To me, it's just something else I never got a chance to be.
- Jerk Jock: Rod.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray is obviously very gruff with Dave and Evelyn, but he does love them both, and even shows it in unexpected ways.
- Meet Cute: While studying Italian outside the campus, Dave notices Katharine. She rides off in her motor scooter, but one of her notebooks falls off. Dave gets on his bike, rides over, picks up the notebook, and chases her down on his bike while she's riding the scooter. She's very impressed.
- Serenade Your Lover: Dave, as Enrico, sings an excerpt from the opera "Martha" outside of Katharine's sorority building. She's visibly touched.
- Sexless Marriage: Averted. We see Ray and Evelyn having a romantic evening, and while we don't see it, it's implied they have sex. And then near the end of the film, we find out that will lead to Babies Ever After.
Ray: Uh, the next word may be your last, kid.
- Shout-Out: Dave tries to rename their cat (named Jake) Fellini.
- Smoking Is Cool: Discussed and subverted. Mike carries a cigarette around with him, but can't bring himself to light it even though he thinks smoking is cool (his hero is the Marlboro Man) because he still thinks he needs to train to play quarterback again. Also, Dave tries to light Katharine's cigarette for her, but the lighter goes out of control, much to Katharine's bemusement.
Dave: (pretending to be Enrico) You shouldn't smoke.
- Smug Snake: Rod.
- somewhat averted as well in that after taunting Mike during their swim race he stops and clearly shows concern after Mike hurts his head when hitting the rock. Totally averted at the end when he cheers for the cutters after narrowly losing the race.
- Where Did We Go Wrong?: Ray feels this way about Dave.
- Write What You Know: Writer Steven Tesich was a graduate of Indiana University, and knew a bicycle champion whom he based Dave on.