Breaking Away (1979)

Breaking Away (1979)

“He was as normal as pumpkin pie — and now look at him!”

A small town teenager (Dennis Christopher) obsessed with bicycle racing and Italy hangs out with his buddies — Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) — while flirting with a beautiful college student (Robyn Douglass) and managing a rocky relationship with his car-salesman dad (Paul Dooley).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Class Relations
  • Coming of Age
  • Dennis Christopher Films
  • Dennis Quaid Films
  • Father and Child
  • Noncomformists
  • Peter Yates Films
  • Small Town America
  • Sports

Peter Yates directed this Oscar-nominated feel-good film (Steve Tesich won for best original screenplay) about class relations, friendship, identity, and father-son dynamics in Bloomington, Indiana. Featuring a memorable lead performance by Christopher as quirky high school grad Dave Stohler:

… whose adventures we get drawn into right away. Dave has huge (if naive) dreams, loyal (if confused) friends, and a frustrated (albeit loving) father who doesn’t hesitate to openly criticize his son.

Although some scenes are played for laughs, everything feels realistic here, from the quarry where the “cutters” (a.k.a. townies) go to swim:

… to the exciting closing bike race at Indiana University.

Barbara Barrie — so memorable many years earlier in One Potato, Two Potato (1964) — earned an Oscar nomination for her performance here as a supportive mother and wife who seems willing to put up with just about anything.

Equally noteworthy are Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley (each with a highly distinctive personality) as Dave’s close friends; their unwavering support for one another is a refreshing throughline.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dennis Christopher as Dave (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Quaid, and Daniel Stern as Dave’s friends
  • Barbara Barrie as Evelyn Stohler
  • Paul Dooley as Ray Stohler
  • Fine location shooting in Bloomington, Indiana

Must See?
Yes, as a unique little film. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book, and nominated as one of the three possible Best Pictures of the Year in Alternate Oscars.


  • Good Show
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


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