[Originally Published 07/01/2008]
We enter an intermission in our bi-weekly search for the ever elusive Hidden Flick, and look at films that were once praised but have since been somewhat forgotten. As we walk up to the ethereal snack bar and pile up on the keg-sized Popcorn, boxes of Raisinettes, Red Vines, SnoCaps, Peanut M&M’s (Jesus, take it easy, fatso), Goobers, and 99-ounce Diet Cokes (trying to cut back a little?), we ponder yesteryear’s sublime cinematic pearl.
This installment of our Intermission column—appearing every ten issues if one is either an accountant, an obsessive fan, or prone to keep track of these mathematical things—will focus on the 1979 coming-of-age film Breaking Away, based in Bloomington, Indiana, and featuring a squadron of snotty college dorks racing each other on steroid-enhanced bikes, while another quartet of less-than-privileged town folks—sons of the almighty “Cutters,” limestone quarry workers in Indiana who helped build the very university in which they occasionally drive by and mock the Richie Riches—ponder their next step as they move away from the warm comfort of high school and look ahead into the abyss that is one’s future when colleges aren’t exactly knocking on your SAT door.
Breaking Away was the little film that could as the 1970s came to a close. The film was a winner before a shot had been printed as it featured an Academy Award-winning script by Steve Tesich, ace casting of future stars-to-be Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Dennis Christopher while also amassing a stellar supporting cast of seasoned veterans: Paul Dooley—who played the coolest, most realistic dad in cinematic history—Barbara Barrie, who was humor, warmth and pathos-personified, and Bad News Bears veteran Jackie Earle Haley, the cool kid who was only 3 feet tall in that baseball film (O.K. I exaggerate. He was 2’10”), but hey, he could hit a ball 400 feet, smoke a pack of Marlboros (it WAS the 70s), date that hot chick that had the hair-wings blow-dried just right, ride a killer motorcycle, and score tickets to the Stones show at the heady age of 12.
READ ON for more on this week’s Hidden Flick: Breaking Away…
Breaking Away basically followed a very simple story line. A group of guys hang out—each an archetype: ex-great athlete (Quaid), complex aesthete (Christopher), humorous oaf (Stern), and insecure chap who can’t wait to marry his first girlfriend (Haley, turning his Bad News Bear role on its head with a subtle glance at the hopeless romantic). The Four Horseman of the Post-Teen Apocalypse have just graduated from high school and are stumbling through their first few days of summer wondering what the heck they are going to do next. What makes this film so fascinating is that…alright, the main snotty chick (Robyn Douglass) from the RIGHT side of the tracks is a babe, but that ain’t the point…anyway, the film works because what the four lower middle class cats have to say about their experiences, thoughts, concerns, and fears about an unknown soon-to-be-adult future ring true. Characters lose hope, gain confidence, take chances, doubt themselves, forget their inhibitions, do what they shouldn’t do but they follow their emotional whims, anyway—essentially showing the side of our true wills before it is corrupted by our daily work lives, lost dreams, children, and all of the other excuses that turn an 18-year old free spirit into a 38-year old trying to remember what they wanted to do with their life.
Breaking Away…there you have it. Oh, yeah…the bike racing is SPECTACULAR as the lead character played by the brilliantly self-effacing Dennis Christopher is into Italian cyclists (not in that way—more an idealized and warped view of European hero worship), and, in a race that escalates the film into minor masterpiece terrain, contains a Rocky-like conclusion that helps to transform his world view, alter his need to emulate his heroes, and also serves as a symbolic motif for all four luckless chaps as they head into their 20s with a heck of a lot more confidence than was present at the film’s commencement.
Did I mention Paul Dooley? Before you open that third beer while watching this wonderfully timeless slice of post-high school life, watch the scene where Dooley (Dad) has a conversation with Christopher (his son, Dave) about what it was like to be a “Cutter” and how much that meant to the town back in the day. You can almost feel the pages of history turn during this scene and they echo numerous other scenes where Dooley, playfully yet sarcastically and very humorously, helps Christopher find his own path, his own wisdom, his own sense of purpose, away from the hero worshipping of his past existence as he thinks of getting a higher education and becoming SOMETHING.
To bring this film full circle, it was also incredibly satisfying to see Jackie Earle Haley—a young actor who once had enormous potential which was squandered for decades—return to greatness in 2007 with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his outstanding performance in the film Little Children. He is also slated to appear in a film adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, playing the masked detective Rorschach. On that note…don’t let Breaking Away, the sporty little All-American film, flounder in ‘Jackie Earle Haley Obscurity’ and stay hidden as you float through the 4th of July, sailing the seas of blissful cheese, BBQing the hours away, or staying at home, piling up your savings for the upcoming PHISH tour dates…