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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Breaking Away (1979)



Reviews and Comments

The charms of Breaking Away are subtle. It is not an ambitious film, or at least it does not seem that way. The story is an intriguing hybrid between the coming of age film and (secondarily) the sports film. The sport, in this case, is bicycle racing, but it hardly matters. The heart of this film is in the characters, the nuances of growing up that are captured so well, and the understated but absolutely riotous humor, supplied primarily by Paul Dooley as the main character's father, who steals scenes not by hamming it up but by playing a down-to-earth, meat and potatoes kind of guy. He has the bulk of the film's great lines, but it's the delivery that makes them so funny: comedy works best when the characters aren't in on the joke.

"Whimsy" is a quality this film understands. It's not interested in involving its audience by punishing them with shock and drama or overdosing them on artificial sweeteners; it takes a riskier but more rewarding road, finding emotional depth, infectious delight, and even joy in every day life.

As an example, the film's most memorable and endearing scene contains no dialogue and little action: it involves the main character biking down the highway and keeping up with a truck driver, who becomes interested and signals his progress from the cab. I will not say how the scene unfolds.