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Breaking Away is one of the best movies ever made. Bar none. If I had to make a Top-100 Films of All Time List, it would easily make the cut. It’s such a shame that it’s not really recognized as such outside of film-circles.

Not that the film was overlooked by any means, it did still win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). But that still only accounted for $20 million in box-office receipts. Shame, such a wonderful film.

Analyzing the Story-Structures of Famous Screenplays: Breaking Away

Dave gives university a shot - and now idolizes the French cycling team and pretends to be French.

Denouement: BACK FORWARD

Dave and his friends are townies living in a mid-west college town. They wile away their days at the old rock quarry and get into altercations with the rich, college kids.

Dave idolizes the Italian cycling team so much that he’s convinced himself he’s Italian, much to his father’s continual consternation.

Dave and his buddies are forced to defend the town’s honour in the big intramural bicycle race at the university. But, pretty soon, it’s only up to Dave...

Inciting Incident: 1st Turning-Point: 2nd Turning Point: False-Victory or False-Defeat:

The college kids show up, encroaching on their territory!

Once the college kids show up, it’s us vs. them. Cutters vs. college kids. Townies vs. out-of-townies.


Meet-Cute: Running over her frisbee - then chasing her down to return the dropped notebook.

Love-story: He’s lying to her (he’s pretending to be Italian, when he’s not). Love-stories almost always have one character (the man) lying to the other about something. The woman typically finds out at the love-story’s second-turning point and they break up. It’s now up to the protagonist to make amends (rushing to the airport and professing his love in a gigantic scene, for instance).

Character-Arc: He’s not Italian. He’s embarrassed by where he’s from and dreams of being from somewhere else.

The first scene of Breaking Away is a master-work. Just look at all it accomplishes:

Just one little scene (while the credits roll) and the audience knows everything about these guys. We know they’ve been friends forever. It’s like we’re part of their group of friends. After only one short scene (behind the credits).

The inciting-incident (of Dave’s character-arc) is his Father complaining about him.

The Italians come to town - and Dave can not only compete with them, but he might actually win!

And then they cheat… (66min)

This destroys everything Dave believes. Everything he holds dear. It turns his entire world upside-down. It completely destroys him.

His heroes are actually bad guys. He’s been deluding himself for years.

Notice how the setting changes:  We go from the streets - to the big bicycle race.

Notice how the stakes rise tremendously:  Dave’s honour, as well as that of his friends and the entire town, ride on his shoulders now.

False-defeat.

Dave is broken. Defeated. Completely.

Whenever you have a false-defeat at the second turning-point, there’s usually an actual-victory at the climax.

Original movie posters from the film

Screen-Writing Contests:

Plot Recap:

Home is where the heart is. Honesty is the best policy. Sort of...

Theme:

Dave learns to not be embarrassed by where he’s from, his hometown, and all the local cutters.

Overcoming this character-flaw is what allows him to enter the race and ultimately win. If he was still embarrassed by being a cutter - he would never in a million years get up in front of thousands of people wearing a CUTTERS shirt. He learns to be proud of who he is and where he is from. And, that allows him to ultimately win and prove his worth. Of course, he chooses not to change at the very end (by faking French).

Character Arc: WARNING: May Contain Spoilers!

The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming! (23min)

Dave now has a goal - to show that he can compete with the Italians, the best cyclists on Earth.

Notice how the setting changes:  Quarry and the college in the first act to streets in the second.

Notice how the stakes rise tremendously: Dave goes from the small-time to the big-time.

Rising action: the chase behind the semi-tractor-trailer.

Breaking Away has a unique story-structure. The first turning-point isn’t really the first turning point. The movie isn’t about Dave’s battle with the Italians, it’s about his battle with the college kids. The real first turning-point is actually the inciting-incident (when the college kids arrive and chase them away from the quarry). That’s when the setting changes (quarry to college). That’s when Dave gets his quest (beat the college kids).