Breaking Away: A Forgotten Classic

I can’t quite remember when I first saw 1979’s Breaking Away, though I do have specific memories of my dad and brother reenacting lines from the movie – specifically Daniel Stern chirping “What’s your major?” and Paul Dooley ranting “Refund! Refund!”

The film always resonated with me, even as a child. But, re-watching the movie as an adult turned out to be a totally different experience. I related so heavily to the characters, even though you could make the case that the film is very much from a male point of view. The female roles in the film are very limited and not really very important. But, great stories and likable characters transcend gender and this film has both.

In case you haven’t seen it, Breaking Away, directed by Peter Yates and written by Steve Tesich, follows a group of four boys just out of high school in Bloomington, Indiana. They’re not in college and they’re not working. They’re sort of just bumming around – swimming in the quarry, making fun of the college kids, and generally trying to figure out what they want to do next.

Our protagonist is Dave (Dennis Christopher), an idealistic young man obsessed with Italian culture and their cycling team. His parents, played by the wonderful Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie, are starting to wonder what he’s doing. Side note: Apparently, Barbara Barrie was essential to getting the film made. At the time, she was the biggest name in the cast. Anyway, Dave is in love with Katherine, a college girl. Intimidated by her, he pretends to be Italian and names himself Enrico. No doubt, it catches up to him.

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His friends are Mike (a young Dennis Quaid), Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley), and Cyril (Daniel Stern). Mike was the high school quarterback. He’s always looking for a fight, something to prove he’s worth just as much as college kids. Moocher is in love with Nancy, although he lies to his friends constantly, telling them, “He’s not seeing her anymore.” Cyril is sort of the one left out to dry, so to speak. He doesn’t really get much of his own story. But, the story he has Daniel Stern makes the most of.

 

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There’s so much to discuss about the narrative of the film. What I connected to when I recently re-watched it was Dave’s journey and loss of innocence. Dave idolizes this Italian cycling team, but when he finally meets them, they’re assholes – further backing up the old adage “you should never meet your heroes.” His idealism is so intensely relatable and its dissolution is heartbreaking.

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What this film also comments on is the distinction between the classes. Dave’s family is nowhere near rich and Dave’s group of friends are dubbed the cutters by the college kids, not because they cut themselves. In this, cutters is just another word for townies, locals, outcasts. Dave’s dad (Paul Dooley) was working at Dave’s age and never had the option of college, so there’s some resentment there, but at heart, he wants his son to be happy.

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At its heart, the film is about friendship. As confused as these boys are, they have each other to back each other up, to figure their lives out.

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They all get a little hope for the future by the end – Dave tells Katherine the truth, Mike makes up with his brother and Moocher gets married. But, Cyril…well, Cyril gets nothing! I’m sure he does get something – there just wasn’t enough time in the movie for it.

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The end of the film shows the boys in the little 500 bike race in Indiana and I dare you to not cheer for them! The elation of the film’s conclusion is infectious.

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If you’ve never seen Breaking Away, I highly recommend giving it a watch. It’ll make you laugh and cry and cheer – everything a movie is supposed to do! Also, the film won the Academy Award for best screenplay, so…

Vintage trailer below:

 

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The Genius of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Okay, so I know I’ve made this blog almost exclusively about movies, but I feel compelled to talk about one of the most original, creative, and fun shows on television currently. As you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I’m a huge fan of old school musicals.

In the past few years, there’s been a slew of shows with singing, most notably Fox’s Glee and NBC’s Smash. However, there’s something different about The CW’s Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. Rachel Bloom’s totally original and creative show doesn’t surround a world with a built in reason for musicality. Glee was about a high school acapella group and Smash took us behind the scenes the making of a broadway show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has no reason, like the best old school musicals.

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When the show began back in October, many critics believed it couldn’t sustain itself over the course of several episodes – Rachel had said there would be at least two original songs in each episode. Funnily enough, it sustained itself and then some. With Aline Brosh-McKenna (the screenwriter behind The Devil Wears Prada), the show has commented on something real and relatable – the delusions we all have surrounding romance and how a person can “complete” us.

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Rachel’s Rebecca Bunch moves across the country to follow an old high school camp boyfriend she runs into in NYC. She thinks it’s a sign that they’re supposed to be together. The fact that he already has a girlfriend – just a small obstacle. Never mind that Greg, the hunky bartender, likes her despite the fact that he knows she’s in love with Josh. Side note: Greg is played by Santino Fontana – aka Prince Charming in Broadway’s original cast of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. 

The songs in the show are different because many times, they’re ironic and dark. They’re also extremely catchy. This carries over from the music videos Rachel created before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – which, incidentally are how she got noticed in the first place. One of her best ones is “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury.”

One of my favorite moments in the show is in episode four, when Rebecca is being courted by Greg. Greg sings to Rebecca, “Settle for Me,” a song reminiscent of all the old Hollywood musicals I love – most notably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The black and white was a nice touch.

The show does all kinds of music. The opposite of an ode to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes” stars the object of Rebecca’s affection, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) singing like NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys. It’s a song any girl born in the 90s will understand.

“You’re a Stupid Bitch” might just be the most poignant song Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has tackled. Rebecca sings it right after she gets caught in a lie by Josh and she feels horrible about herself.

Greg (Santino Fontana) has become one of my favorite characters.This song is everything. Greg’s ode is so, so relatable. Watch “I Could If I Wanted To” and tell me you don’t agree.

Later in the season, Rebecca starts dating Greg, which led to one of the best numbers the show has had: “Oh my god, I think I like you!” I literally can’t stop listening.

One of the things that has separated Crazy Ex-Girlfriend from other television, especially from other CW shows, is that every character looks like a real person. No one is a stick thin, perfect looking model. The cast is diverse, talented and relatable. It all comes back to Rachel Bloom who despite playing a character who makes a lot of bad choices, is intensely likable.

Bloom worked extremely hard to get where she is and her Golden Globes award speech reveals her to be humble and appreciative of the opportunities she’s been given.

Her original pilot of the show which was made for Showtime was not picked up. Brosh-McKenna and Bloom thought it was over, but The CW swooped in and gave the show a home, embracing all its quirkiness. It’s truly an accident that something this original and different got made and I just hope it continues to get renewed. Bloom is an inspiration to me because she knew what she wanted to make and she didn’t conform. The show is all her – we need more original voices like hers!

The CW is starting to rebrand itself. So, don’t be put off by the fact that it’s on the same network responsible for things like The Vampire Diaries and 90210. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is THAT GOOD and if you give it a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Charlie Chaplin and “The Kid”

It’s national classic movie day so I thought I’d continue telling you about my adventures at the TCM Film Fest by talking about Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 film The KidThe Kid is a great example for why the TCM Film Festival is so important. It was on my list of must see films as soon as it was announced. Still, as excited as I was, I felt hesitant. Silent films require a concentration different from sound films. Everything is visual. If you look down or nod off, you miss something.

I’m happy to say that concentration was not at all a problem during The Kid. Rounding out at only 68 minutes, The Kid follows “the woman” played by Edna Purviance who leaves her baby in the backseat of a car, only to regret it a few minutes later. Eventually, the kid falls into Chaplin’s hands and he decides to raise the child as his own. At five, the kid is played by Jackie Coogan who is probably cuter than any kid in any film ever made. I know. That’s a big statement, but he really is THAT CUTE. He helps Chaplin steal and they get into fun antics together.

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I DARE YOU TO FIND A CUTER GIF 😭

Funnily enough, the parallel I saw was to another film, made twelve years later called The Torch Singer. That film starred Claudette Colbert and was about a woman (Colbert) who had a child out of wedlock and gave up the child, only to become a famous singer/entertainer years later. The same happens in The Kid. The woman becomes a successful actress and wants to find her child.

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Before the film, the presenters pointed out something I had already heard, but forgotten. Jackie Coogan is the reason for the Coogan act. He made boatloads of money as a child actor (literal millions), but his mother and step-father spent it all. He sued them once he was of age, but only got pennies compared to what he earned. But, because of him, there are now laws in place so that child performers receive their money.

I’ve seen a number of Chaplin films but know I still haven’t touched the bulk of his work. However, The Kid is really the best example of why Chaplin’s films were so popular. The energy is frenetic, the comedy gags are on point, and the emotion is palpable (I was crying!). I had so much fun watching it that I honestly forgot it was a silent film. I think if more people saw it they would understand that not all silent films are scary (boring).

Chaplin understood something other auteurs now could take a page from. For instance, 68 minutes is more than enough time for a feature film. Why are all films 2+ hours now? And it’s wasted time, most of the time. Also, Chaplin understood that the visuals are paramount. Obviously, Chaplin started in silent films so all he had was visuals in the beginning, but something’s gotten lost today. There are far too many films in which the visuals serve little to no purpose – which, in film, is kinda a waste! Okay, RANT OVER. 😬

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Sitting with a full audience around me laughing and reacting was an amazing experience. It was hard to believe this film was made 95 years ago. It kind of gives you a warm and happy feeling though. Good films are timeless. 😍

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Oh, and uh, you can watch the whole film on Youtube. So, what are you waiting for??

Damn the Torpedoes!

If you read my blog, you’ll know that last weekend, I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, California. While I saw a good many films this year, there were a few bright standouts. One of them I had seen years ago, but didn’t really remember. I had such a good time watching it, I knew I was gonna have to write about it. That film is 1943’s The More the Merrier.

The More the Merrier was one of director George Stevens’ last comedies. When the war started, Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a film crew, shooting footage of D-Day as well as concentration camps. Consequently, after seeing the horrors of the holocaust, Stevens was only interested in making dramatic films. After the war, he made such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

While it makes sense that Stevens would have little interest in comedies after the war, it’s easy to see in watching The More the Merrier that he had great talent in that arena. The More the Merrier follows Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) who, in trying to be a good samaritan, decides to rent out half her apartment given the Washington D.C. housing shortage. Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), an older gentleman, talks her into renting to him even though she initially wanted a female roommate. Dingle decides Milligan needs a man. Dingle rents half his room to Joe Carter (Joel McCrea) in the hopes that sparks will fly. But, Milligan has a fiance….DRAMA. CONFLICT. COMEDY, ETC.

This film does so many things right, but the main reason it succeeds is  because of the actors. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn are superb, their comic timing exact.

Jean Arthur doesn’t get talked about enough. She paved the way for so many female comedians. She was beautiful in a simple way. She was smart. She had heart. She gave countless Oscar worthy performances and was Frank Capra’s favorite leading lady. It’s also worth noting that Arthur was in her early forties when she starred in this film and that her age didn’t matter…at all! Oh, how the industry has changed…

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Coburn almost outshines the whole group as Benjamin Dingle. He’s bumbling and conniving, but at heart, a very sweet old man. Coburn had great success as a character actor, having noteworthy roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bachelor Mother. But, he ended up taking home the Oscar in 1943 for Best Supporting Actor in The More the Merrier. And believe me, it was well deserved!

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Joel McCrea…I don’t even know how to express my feelings about. He had such a natural charm. He was just automatically likable. Cari Beauchamp introduced the film at the festival Saturday morning, saying, “It’s never too early for Joel McCrea.” I heartily agree!

The scene on the porch stoop is said to be one of the best love scenes in American cinema. Like many films of that era, it’s all suggestion. The sensuality and eroticism are all implied, but never directly dealt with. If you can watch this scene without having the hots for Joel McCrea, well, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand you. Just look at that face…

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This film could have easily been a stage play. Most of the action takes place inside the apartment and the dialogue is, like most screwball comedies, fast and superbly quippy. The laughs are countless and even 73 years later, it’s a joy to watch.

Just a warning: After watching this film, you will, one, want to make “Damn the torpedoes!” your new catch phrase and two, be filled with sadness that Joel McCrea is not a possible suitor…or maybe that’s just me. 😍

Trailer (sort of – more just an elongated clip) below:

I leave you with this gif. If it doesn’t convince you to watch this film, I don’t know what will…

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