In many ways, Peter Yates’ Breaking Away is a typical genre entry: the story of a small town, one where many people never leave, and its limitations on the youth, and a coming-of-age tale. The supporting characters, such as Mike (Dennis Quaid) and Cyril (Daniel Stern), are pretty vanilla. But the material is elevated by a fascinating dynamic between the film’s protagonist Dave (Dennis Christopher) and his grumpy, resistant-to-culture, yet ultimately loving father (Paul Dooley). Early on, we think that Dave’s father is just an asshole who’s bitter that his son has grander ambitions than to sell used cars: Dave is obsessed with learning Italian, primarily because they’re the best bikers in the world, and is clearly smart enough to get into and attend college, even if he’s leaning towards passing. For much of the movie, Dave’s dad could pass for a stereotype of conservative, rural American father’s who wake up every morning dreading that their son might be gay: the father nearly has a heart attack when he walks in on Dave shaving his legs, which he was doing to mimic the Italian bike riders’ techniques. But a funny thing happens—as Dave begins to learn humility through women and the rare taste of cycling defeat, his father begins to change as well, without any irritating plot devices guiding him. Oh, he remains somewhat corrupt and old-fashioned, but his desire for his son to share in his misery starts to melt away (“I didn’t want you to be this miserable. A little bit’s all I asked for.”) The triumphant ending teeters on twee, but feels warranted enough—due to the strong writing that establishes Dave’s character and relationships with those around him—to give it a pass and enjoy the moment right along with him.

66/100