THE UNDERRATED – “SPORTS EDITION” BREAKING AWAY

DVD-BreakingAway This excellent slice of life/coming of age/character driven movie from 1979, which won the Oscar for best original screenplay, is on my list of near perfect movies. The look, the feel, the actions and choices the characters make, all of it has a genuine authenticity that most of these sorts of movies lack. Now with that being said I am going to guess that not many people have even heard of it let alone seen it, which is a shame because I wish more movies with this kind of quality were being made.

What’s Breaking Away you might ask? Simple it’s the story of four recent high school grads that live in Bloomington, Indiana, circa 1978. Thank you, have a good day. Oh you want more huh? Well, OK I guess. Like I said the story revolves around four friends that could be considered archetype sort of characters but aren’t, they are flesh and blood. There is the main character and the movies focus, Dave Stoller, played by Dennis Christopher who is the nerdy friend. Former high school hero Quarterback Mike played by the excellent Dennis Quaid. The outsider friend, Moocher, played by Jackie Earle Haley. Moocher got that nick name because he was living on his own (rummy parents and the like) and “mooched” food from his friends to survive. Lastly there is Cyril played by Danial Stern in his first film roll. Cyril was a high school basketball star but is hamstrung by low self esteem and a shitty father who pushed him way too far and made him feel worthless and incapable of doing anything well.

Our intrepid band spends their days working crappy jobs in the college town of Bloomington which is full of rich silver spoon motherfuckers that get everything handed to them and treat the locals, and anybody not of their rarefied strata, as backward servants. Fucking rich kids. They are one of the reasons I hated college. Having to interact with these college punks and the inevitable class war that breaks out is one of the many themes that drives this movie and plays itself out during the course of the film, especially in the race finale set at the “Little” 500 bicycle race at Indiana University. For our foreignally challenged friends, the Little 500 is a riff on the Indianapolis 500, a famous open wheel race run at a speedway in suburban Indianapolis during the US Memorial Day Weekend.

As usual I am not going too much into plot. I will be looking more at the characters and ideas behind the movie than how the movie gets from beginning to end. If you want to know the story itself, get the movie and be impressed.

The themes of alienation and being an outsider, even in what is your hometown, come naturally to the screen writer Steve Tesich, nee Stojan Tešić, born in what was then Yugoslavia (present day Serbia) and emigrated to America in 1957 as a fourteen year old. Tesich graduated from Indiana University and was an alternate rider on the 1962 IU Little 500 team. That is where Tesich met Dave Blase, the guy he based the character Dave Stoller on. Blase rode 139 of the 200 laps of the ’62 Little 500 which is exactly what Stoller did in the movie.

In the beautifully insightful script, Tesich wrote about the struggle of finding one’s place in the world earning him the best screenplay Oscar for his fantastic work. Breaking Away was created back in the day when the little gold bald man meant quality unlike today. (I’m looking at you Gladiator and Julia Roberts). Tesich was able to eloquently capture that “post-high school pre-adult” life of being 18. It’s that time in your life when everything seems possible and you feel like you can do anything. The only problem is that you don’t actually know how to achieve any of those lofty dreams you have so you end up settling for longing to fulfill those dreams, hanging with your friends and trying to figure out who and what you are as human being.

That span of time between 18 and 21 when you are technically an adult, but aren’t, are in my opinion the most important of your life. It’s when you figure out what you have in the tank as Man or a Woman. It really is the one time in your life that have total control of exactly what you are. Previously your parents and school held that responsibility and later on the family you make, your job and the government take that responsibility from you. Tesich was able to tap a vein in subtle and layered ways with his screen play.

breaking away The acting in Breaking Away is great. Every actor in the main group absolutely nailed their part. Quaid as the jock who fast realized his glory days are over was particularity poignant and angry but Haley as the ultimate outsider was just as good at bringing the anger out from under the nice guy facade. Danial Stern who made a career out of playing the loser low self esteem guy has never been better and Dennis Christopher as the nerd that invents an entirely new personality, that of an Italian bike racer, was perfect. I applaud then them all but the real outstanding work done in Breaking Away is by Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie as Dave Stoller’s dad Ray and mom Evelyn.

These two were absolutely spot on as the besieged and bewildered parents of Dave with his love of bike racing, Italian culture and music. Barrie’s Evelyn, was herself, searching for her place in the changing world for women in the 70’s and Barrie was more then able to express the seeking nature of her character. To her credit Evelyn realized her son was doing the same soul searching. Barrie was at turns funny and deeply intelligent in her portrayal of Evelyn. As great as Barbara Barrie was though, the best, most nuanced and incredible work in this movie is done by Paul Dooley as Ray.

Ray had spent his life as a “cutter” in the quarries of Indiana, cutting and shaping the limestone the area is known for, until he is felled by a heart attack in his late 40’s. Ray was justifiably proud of his blue collar yet artistic career. Now he is trying to take care of his family like the man he is by selling used cars. Ray has stepped out of the only world he knew where he was known for the quality of his work and stepped into a world he doesn’t understand. It’s a world full of sons that listen to opera, wives reading Cosmopolitan magazine and rich punk, cock sucking, college fucktards that know who Nietzsche is and quote Shakespeare but can’t do lick of man’s work to save their worthless lives. These losers can’t even do something as simple as change the oil in their own car, the useless vampires. That philosophy degree is real handy, numb nuts. Unfortunately for Ray, that’s the future and he knows it. The days of taking pride in creating and building things are dwindling and the world of “ideas” and pussy jobs will be the norm.

The scenes between Dave and Ray are painfully real to watch and reverberate with authenticity you rarely ever encounter in movies. For me personally they hit hard. I never knew the sperm donor that knocked up my nutty ambulatory womb so movies that have strong family dynamics tend to gut punch me with the force of a sledge hammer wielded by a strongman on angel dust. This is what Breaking Away is, an emotional gut punch but in a good way.

Do I recommend Breaking Away? Yes I do, 100 percent. The writing, the acting , the cinematography, the direction, everything is damn near perfect and the most interesting thing about it, the movie was released in July of ’79. That’s right boy’s and girls, Breaking Away was a SUMMER movie and not an Oscar bait Thanksgiving or Christmas film. If only Hollywood still made good movies like this…

Mahalo,

Xiphos

Breaking Away Trailer

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57 responses to “THE UNDERRATED – “SPORTS EDITION” BREAKING AWAY”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Xi…FUCK YES! I love this fucking film. I will criticize your review in one regard, I don’t think Breaking Away is underrated, I think it is criminally neglected. Anyone who has seen it knows it is great, but for some damn reason it is completely forgotten. Why don’t people mention this film or bring it up is a complete mystery to me.

    Man, I love this film so much I could do a million post on it, which I just might…

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Conti you’re right this is a criminally neglected movie and one that gets me every single time I watch it.

      • Continentalop says :

        Same here Xi. Funny thing is that this is also a film I’m guilty of neglecting. When people ask me about my all time favorite movies I also forget about this one. But if I think about it, this film has to rank somewhere in at least top 100 films that truly had an impact on me.

    • Jarv says :

      Criminally neglected has been one of my criteria for picking Underrated movies.

  2. Continentalop says :

    Paul Dooley is incredible as Ray the father. He was one of the first characters in a movie that I felt resembled my father in some way. Not physically (Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino is the closest to my dad in terms of physicality and mannerism) but in attitude towards me and pride in his work. He was a construction worker in the twin city and helped build some of the bridges (I joking claim he helped build the one that collapsed) and buildings downtown, and he always had a sense of pride when he went into Minneapolis and rode over one of his bridges, or my mom would point out which sky-scrapers (well, skyscrapers in the TC) he helped make. The scene were he talks about help building the campus always brings a tear to my eye. It strikes a cord with me.
    Paul Dooley should have won an oscar for that role (of course, the year it came out was probably a great year and he probably had a lot of competitions – fucking 70s rule). And he should have been nominated for Monster in the Closet!

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Paul Dooley man that guy is good. I’ve never ever seen him turn in a bad false or fake performance but christ on a crutch in Breaking Away he was magnificent.

      Like you noted that part at the quarry and the University near the end you could hear, see and feel the pride of the character for what he has built shine through. Truly phenomenal work of acting and writing.

      • Continentalop says :

        I really do respect Paul Dooley. He is such a phenomenal character actor. Popeye, Sixteen Candles, Dream On, and his little bit role in Slapshot (where he is the radio announcer for an opposing team). The guy is fucking brilliant.

  3. Continentalop says :

    BTW, the director of this film was Peter Yates, who made Bullitt, The Hot Rock, The Friends of Eddie Coyle; Mother, Jugs & Speed; The Deep, Eye Witness, and Krull!

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Damn it I had a part in there about the director and I took it out meaning to rewrite. Thanks for posting that since I forgot.

      • Continentalop says :

        I just wanted to name drop Krull. Seriously, that film is so out of place with all his other ones, i just feel like i should sing that song from Sesame Street, “One of these things doesn’t belong…”

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Mother Juggs and Speed is another overlooked little gem so is the friends of Eddie Coyle.

  4. Continentalop says :

    And finally, Dooley’s entire thing about “-innis” is just fucking hilarious.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      The dyspeptic looks that Ray would shoot at Dave when he was doing his goofy Italian shit reminded me of the looks my grandfather use to fire at me when I was being an idiot cracked me up.

      • Continentalop says :

        That is basically the same look my dad had when I would talk to him about French films or go shoot a short film. My dad supported me, but he definitely didn’t understand me.

  5. Continentalop says :

    And while you ripped into the upper class in your review Xi, you got to admit one thing that was really good about this film was they didn’t demonize them. The upper class college kids might have been the Cutters competitions, but they weren’t villains like the kids from Cobra Kai were. I loved that fairness and honesty in this film (but they did show that the Italians do cheat).

    • xiphos0311 says :

      I agree they were quite fair about the class distinctions. I was in a disagreeable mood when I wrote that part. If I was writing it now It would probably come out quite different and more along the lines of a balanced statement then what I wrote.

      Oh man i felt bad for Dave when his heroes fucked him over for being better then them. It was hilarious when the Italians were huffing and puffing and Dave kept up a conversation with no effort.

  6. Continentalop says :

    Not to keep posting on this movie before anyone else gets a chance, but another thing I love about this film is the character of the trucker with whom Stroller races against. We never see his face, we never know his name, but that character is incredibly memorable. He is like the good twin of the trucker from Duel.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      There were lot’s of moments like that in the movie. I think some of my favorite parts where just the guys hanging out at the quarry and how their relationship was shown progressing due to the changes the characters were making.

      Along the same line just how good was the bike race in terms of how they filmed it? The race tension was palpable and they way they inter cut it with Ray at work and his choice. Fuck it’s a good movie

      • Continentalop says :

        No, I agree. This is a fucking real good movie on every level. You can get into hour long discussions on characters, plot, the way the race scenes were cut, political (the entire class thing), the idea of a kid wanting to reinvent himself, father-son relationships, etc.

        This film is really the definition of deep. And you don’t even notice it when you watch it.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Yeah you don’t notice any of that because on top of everything you said the move is just flat out entertaining.

  7. Barfy says :

    A nice touch to have Steve Tesich’s friend and inspiration for the film, Dave Blase, given a part in the film as the race announcer. You can’t say too many good things about this movie. It’s not “in your face” but the subtleties will get to you. A really lovely film.

  8. MORBIUS says :

    Xi

    Nice rundown on a great movie I haven’t seen in a coons age. That which must be rectified in the forseeable future.

    If you are planning any Hockey Movies soon (Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Mystery, Alaska, Youngblood) would be the first to come to mind, but, pound for pound my money would be on SLAP SHOT!

    • koutchboom says :

      You know I wonder if there is some secret hidden Canadian film gem about Hockey out their somewhere?

    • Droid says :

      Slap Shot is great. I liked Miracle as well. Mystery Alaska was okay if memory serves and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Mighty Ducks yonks ago but I don’t remember anything about it.

      Best Ice Hockey movie is Sudden Death.

      Fact!

      • Jarv says :

        YES!

        Sudden Death FTW!

        I also seem to remember really liking Youngblood but I’ve not seen that since the early 90’s and I bet it doesn’t stand up.

    • Continentalop says :

      SLAP SHOT kicks all kind of ass! Greatest sports comedy ever.

      “Dave’s a killer!” “Dave’s a mess.”

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Morbi,

      Mighty Ducks, Slap Shot and maybe Miracle(I’m on the fence about this one) are all to well know to be considered underrated. If you look at any list of best sports movies Slap shots and Mighty Ducks are on all of them and Miracle is on quite a few. Like I said though I am on the bubble about reviewing Miracle and tend to lean towards the underrated side.

      Now Mystery Alaska that is an underrated gem that I had plan on reviewing it is an excellent movie. I have a lot of sports movies to get to and I am not really doing this in any sort of order. I don’t remember Youngblood so I’ll have to rewatch it thanks for the idea.

      I have no real schedule for the sports movies I review, I just review what ever movie strikes my fancy when I decide to write one of these. I ended up with two baseball movies at the beginning of this column probably due to the season just starting.

  9. Jarv says :

    Hey!

    I can’t change the oil on a car either. I can check it, and I know where to put more in, but I’ve got no idea beyond that.

    I’m not a useless parasite.

  10. Droid says :

    Not seen this one either. It will promptly go on my “must watch” list.

  11. Tom_Bando says :

    Sadly, all I remember from this is the kid being Italian w/out being a real Italian. I will have to re-watch it. Cast, Director(Peter Yates?? Really?? he did Friends of Eddie Coyle too?! DANG—) and writing all seem top-notch.

    Stern and Patrick Dempsey were in a nice little road-movie w/ a similar theme-if not nearly as good a rep-back in 1990, Coup De Ville. I caught that one a few years ago and as always, found the more Alan Arkin you put into a film, the better off you are.

    Anyways I will be sure to search this one out.

    I liked Quaid in the Rookie from 2002 quite alot too, by the way. That one has some rather effecting scenes of finally realizing your dreams, putting yourself in your fathers’/sons’ shoes, and not giving up. I think it holds up well.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      The Rookie is a damn good movie. Quaid has be in more then his fair share of good sports flicks.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        There’s something about the way Bryan Cox interacts w/ Quaid in that one-you can see the absolute weight of years weighing down their every word w/ one another, all the regret and resentments etc. I liked how they didn’t make Cox out to be the bad guy nor let Quaid off the hook for making his life choices etc. That (I think) is what helped take the Rookie from being just a run of the mill sports bio/feel good thing and into a higher notch. It’s not a classic or whatever but it does alot more w/ the Jim Morris story than it hadda right to.

  12. koutchboom says :

    Yeah Critic Robert Wizlonsky brings this up every week on his show. Been meaning to watch it for forever. I keep confusing the director to be Peter Hyams for some reason, and it always makes me go??? Huh that guy directed some coming of age tale?

  13. koutchboom says :

    Yet I don’t confuse it to be directed by David Yates the guy who’s raping the Harry Potter franchise of any fun there may be with that filth.

    • Droid says :

      I think you’d be better off blaming JK Rowling wouldn’t you?

      • koutchboom says :

        I don’t know I can at least see the words on her books if I was so inclind, this fuck got a Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar nom for a Harry Potter film that you couldn’t physically seen a majority of film because it was so dark. I don’t know how that works out. Its almost as bad as Boring 3 winning 3 Oscars for its editing work.

      • Droid says :

        I think you might have got a dud cinema or something. Or if you saw it at home you might want to turn the brightness up on your tv. Because I saw it (at home) and had no problem seeing everything.

        The problem I had is that I just didn’t care very much.

      • Jarv says :

        I was going to say that. The demise of the potter series is fully down to Rowling and the publishers inability to say no to her.

        Books 5 and 6 are terribly over-indulged and over-heavy.

        Having said that, it would take a brave editor to tell her that she was writing shit.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, it would be like a studio head telling James Cameron that the idea for his next film is shit.

        “Um, yes! Thats a great idea. Here’s a blank cheque. Do whatever you want!”

      • Jarv says :

        I can almost see it:

        “No, Joanne, that isn’t boring to turn out 800 pages of waffle about Harry’s sordid wank fantasy about his best mate’s younger sister. That’s not dull and a bit weird in the slightest, and no-one really cares about that Voldemort cunt that you went to ludicrously elaborate lengths to bring back. Not at all, they all care about the sub-Twilight garbage of Harry’s love life”

        Someone badly needed to say no to her at some point.

      • Droid says :

        The biggest problem with the last Potter film (6?) was that Voldemort wasn’t even in it. Which made it seem even more of a pointless gap-filler until the final film(s).

      • Droid says :

        Plus, it cost $250m and didn’t for one second seem like it cost more than 60. Granted about $50m went on the three kids salaries.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yep thats right, that fucking annoying ginger twat has made more money by the age of 18 then all of us combined will probably be able to make in our lifetimes.

      • koutchboom says :

        Me talking to Rowling:

        Throwing the first book down after 5 pages, “why don’t you stick with what your good at and get me my fucking order and a new fork, this one is dirty.”

  14. koutchboom says :

    Hahahah Peter Yates was nominated for an Oscar and best movie for this film.

  15. redfishybluefishy says :

    I LOVE this movie. Just watched it again recently. I’ve seen it so many times, but I just can’t help but watch it when it’s on. It’s got a lot of spirit and heart and a timeless quality about it. Good storytelling has no ‘best before’ date.

  16. ThereWolf says :

    Great write-up, Xi.

    Predictably, I haven’t seen Breaking Away. Will add this one to the list with immediate effect and hope one of the ‘free movie streaming’ sites have got it.

  17. lordbronco says :

    Great review Xi!

    Umm, Lance Armstrong anybody?

    Lance… freakin’…Armstrong!!!

    He defeated the French at their own game!

    Viche swine!

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Bronco. Breaking Away way predates Armstrong schooling the cheese eating surrender monkeys. hell it even predates Greg LeMond making the Frenchies cry like the school girls they are.

  18. BollywoodLatest says :

    Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.

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