Though its plot wins no points for originality, Breaking Away is a thoroughly delightful light comedy, lifted by fine performances from Dennis Christopher and Paul Dooley. The story is nothing more than a triumph for the underdog through sports, this time cycle racing.
Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley are four recent high-school graduates with no particular educational ambitions, yet stuck in a small college town – and a fairly snooty college at that. But Christopher is a heck of a bike rider and such an adulator of Italian champions that he pretends to be Italian himself, even at home.
Pretending to be an Italian exchange student, Christopher meets pretty coed Robyn Douglass (an able film debut for her) and this ultimately brings the boys into conflict with the big men on campus that must finally be resolved in a big bike race.
The relationship among the four youths is warm and funny, yet full of different kinds of conflicts. Quaid is very good as the ex-quarterback facing a life with no more cheers; Haley is good as a sawed-off romantic; and Stern is superb as a gangly, wise-cracking mediator.
Though pic sometimes seems padded with too much cycle footage, the climax is exciting, even though predictable.
1979: Best Original Screenplay.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actress (Barbara Barrie), Adaptated Score