Being a Purdue Alum, Breaking Away can be hard to watch at times with that IU fight song and all. During the film, my black and gold blood started to boil with jealousy. IU has Oscar nominated Breaking Away, Notre Dame has my childhood favorite, Rudy. All I could find under a keyword search on IMDB for Purdue was a short documentary from 1941 that less than five people have seen. Boiler what?
Despite my natural revolt to it’s location, Breaking Away is a wonderful film. Dave (Dennis Christopher) and his friends are recent high school graduates in Bloomington, Indiana. They don’t plan on going to the town’s college, Indiana University, don’t have jobs and don’t seem to have much focus on what lies ahead of them. There’s a wedge driven between the wealthy college students and the local working class “cutters.” The name comes from how the quarry workers had cut the limestone for many of the buildings on IU’s campus. Now, it seems that they aren’t good enough for the campus they helped build.
Dave is fascinated by Italian culture and cycling. He starts teaching himself Italian and constantly rides his bike, training for and winning races. While his Italian spirit and freedom to ride all he likes makes Dave vibrant and happy, his father Ray (Paul Dooley), is annoyed. “He’s never tired, he’s never miserable,” he says about Dave, like it’s a bad thing. He’s a used car salesman, a crooked one at that, and just wants his son to work and be normal.
Unfortunately, Dave starts taking his new-found Italian culture too far. He passes himself off as an Italian exchange student to an IU sorority girl, Katherine (Robyn Douglass). She believes Dave’s Italian act and the two start dating. Dave also enters a race in Indianapolis in order to race alongside the Italians. During the race, he speaks Italian to them, but they just tell him to get lost and pull some dirty tricks to get rid of him. “Everybody cheats. I just didn’t know,” Dave says, disillusioned.
With his ideas about Italians squashed and his father suffering a breakdown because of him, Dave becomes miserable. His father confesses, “I didn’t want you to be this miserable. A little bit’s all I asked for.” There’s one thing that can put Dave back on top, the university’s annual bike race, the Little 500, is allowing a local team for the first time. Dave and his friends sign up to represent all the hardworking people of Bloomington and show the disrespectful college kids what Cutters can do.
A friend of mine gave me a little more insight to how Indiana University reveres this film. She and her friends would watch Breaking Away every year the day before the Little 500 as preparation for the festivities. Thing is, they don’t call their townies Cutters or even Stoners as the IMBD trivia page says they did years ago. But there is still a team named “Cutters” in the race every year, she usually cheers for them.
Also, in the film there are a lot less people at the race than there usually are in real life. You see, IU told the producers that they could get 20,000 student extras for the scene, but only 3,000 showed up for the day of filming. Way to represent your school. Of course, thirty years ago they might have actually been studying.
In the end, Breaking Away is an enjoyable, inspiring sports film. Unlike Rudy, it doesn’t make the mistake of becoming too emotional. We love Dave because he’s kind of a goofy kid, driving his parents nuts with all that Italian stuff and yet can do amazing things on that bike. Going down a highway at sixty miles per hour with no helmet is crazy, but passing a semi makes those smooth legs look bad-ass. This movie may be one of the best things that has ever crossed IU’s campus.
Note: If any IU students, alumni, affiliates and/or fans were offended by my jabs, I promise it was only in good fun. I have many friends and family affiliated with IU and we haven’t disowned each other yet.