The crazy thing is that Dave is a talented bike-rider, easily able to win races when he applies himself. Sporadic training is a part of his day but mostly he fantasizes about joining the Italian elite, as represented by the Cinzano team who are visiting Bloomington for a big local race. Mr.Stohler is driven to distraction by Dave's fad for speaking in broken-up Italian (to the extent that he calls their cat Fellini instead of Jake), perhaps because of bitter wartime memories. He can't communicate with his only son though so the frustration remains, coupled with an unspoken affection. Mike and Cyril were also athletically adept at one time but they've slipped even further, consigning their prowess to history. Moocher, meanwhile, is just touchy about his diminutive height.
As the day of the Cinzano 100 approaches, Dave actually puts some miles in (at one point competitively drafting off of a Cinzano truck). He even assumes so many Italian mannerisms that he manages to pick up Katherine (Robyn Douglass), a college girl. Since the locals are disparagingly referred to as "Cutters" by the student body, and looked down upon, this is pretty good going. In other ways the tight groups looks as though it might split, with Moocher getting married and hunting for a job. The spectre of a college entrance exam also looms large for Dave and Cyril, thought they unconsciously count themselves out (Cyril is almost conditioned to fail, as expected by his father). This is undoubtably the summer where the bubble of childhood bursts, letting in harsh reality.
Although nominally a coming-of-age tale, this broad category fails to explain the subtlety of Breaking Away. By placing believable characters in a realistic setting, the myriad of tensions within a campus town are revealed. Most significant is the generation gap, a barrier separating Dave and his friends form their parents. However, the interaction between the rich students and relatively poorer towns-people is also important, since that determines how folks feel about college generally. Locals, like Mr.Stohler, are content to rip off students as long as they treat the inhabitants disgracefully - not a very productive interaction. On yet another level, the closing of limestone quarries many years ago has a direct impact on lives today, since Mr.Stohler now sells used cars while Moocher's dad has left for Chicago to find work (they were both stone-cutters before).
Within this extremely well written and sensitive script, the characters immediately feel natural. The ways in which they behave and the words they use all seem right, appropriate for the setting. This is partly a success for the story (and its writer) but it's the high level of acting which breathes life into the roles. Christopher is excellent as the central figure, unsure and naive yet quietly determined to triumph (qualities established firmly and without fuss). Dooley is equally impressive as his confused father, disappointed in himself and worried about his son, while Barbara Barrie (Mrs.Stohler) does well in her few scenes.
Simply, Breaking Away understands working-class characters and refuses to patronise them. Their concerns and the situations within which they find themselves are perceptively handled, without the falseness that many films succumb to by over-dramatisation. The underlying story is straightforward, yet a lot of excitement is generated even though the outcome is predetermined. For some reason the shadow of tragedy is ever-present, never revealed yet implicit within these potentially wasted lives. Fortunately, all of these elements mesh smoothly to create something which is surprisingly amusing and affecting, yet never sentimental. There is a great deal to like in Breaking Away, even if some of the cycling scenes are a touch silly.