Thursday, June 7, 2007

Movie number 11: "Breaking Away"

Someone in my building had put some books out today on a table to give away. One caught my eye. It's called Summer Crossing and it's by Steve Tesich. I couldn't recall why his name rang a bell, but then there at the bottom of the cover were the words "A Novel by the Author of Breaking Away." Argh!!! How could I have forgotten this movie when creating my top ten list? I can't think where to place it yet so here it is, number 11, although I'm sure in a day or two I will move it up the ranks.

Breaking Away was the first movie I heard of referred to as a "sleeper," in other words a film that was not expected to do well, but that somehow caught the imagination and reached a great many more people than had been anticipated. It also won the Oscar for screenwriter Steve Tesich. It's directed by Peter Yates, and - for you sports nuts out there - a 2003 issue of Sports Illustrated put Breaking Away number 8 on the top 50 sports movies of all time. This movie is a gem: it starred a quartet of young men who all went on to do a lot more work, most famously Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern and - latterly - Jackie Earle Haley who was recently nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Little Children (2006). Dennis Christopher is the lead, all lanky, cycling eagerness: who couldn't love a young guy from Indiana who sings opera in a blisteringly awful Italian accent to impress a girl? Dagnabit - he even pretends to be Italian the rest of the time.

Someone asked me once why I love movies about young men coming into their own in small town U.S.A., i.e. Breaking Away, Diner (1982), and Napoleon Dynamite (2004) ("He's out to prove he has nothing to prove!" - what a tagline), to name three off the top of my head. Well, that's not entirely accurate. What I love about those movies is that the endings are not fairy-tale. There's a reality to them, a sort of understanding that these people aren't necessarily going to go very far, in the way movies define successful people. And I applaud a movie where people can dare to be average and be happy at the same time! Some good coming-of-age movies deal with people in groups, like Breaking Away and Diner, and others with a more solitary character, as with Napoleon Dynamite. A superb one about a young woman alone is Ruby in Paradise (1993), with Ashley Judd in her first movie. She's beautiful but real. I highly recommend it.

Oh yes, I took Summer Crossing and will be reading it soon.

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