My Favorite Movies – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

23 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Here’s one from my personal top 100. No, top 50. No, you know what? Maybe even top 10! It’s pretty much my definition of “a perfect movie,” and since it takes place around Thanksgiving, it’s declared the ultimate “Thanksgiving movie.” What better time of year to talk about it?

I’m of course talking about “Pieces of April.” What a delightfully droll indie gem with a winning performance from Katie Holmes as a quirky, rebellious young woman struggling to make everything perfect for her dying mother because this might be her last Thanksgiving– No, it’s obviously Planes, Trains & Automobiles. OF COURSE it’s “Planes, Trains & Automobiles!” Why would it be anything other than “PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES??”

Sorry, not sorry. I love this movie. (Btw, “Pieces of April” is really freaking good too.)

Where do I begin with this one? Why do I love it so? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s my idea of a “dramedy”–part comedy, part drama, and overall wonderful. With movies like this, City Lights, and 50/50, among others, I’ve learned that if there’s anything more important than a comedy that makes you laugh…it’s one that makes you feel.

Where does the comedy come in? Well, Steve Martin and John Candy are a great comic duo with differing personalities–Martin’s Neal Page is an uptight, tidy marketing exec; Candy’s Del Griffith is a messy, joyous (and blabbering) traveling salesman (of shower curtain rings). They meet by chance as they try to fly from New York City to Chicago. Del doesn’t have a good first impression after inadvertently stealing Neal’s cab en route to the airport, and it gets even worse when they’re seated together on the plane and Del WILL NOT SHUT UP. When a snowstorm forces them to land in Wichita, Del helps Neal find a motel room to sleep in…and one bed for them to share together.

We’re not even a half-hour in before Neal totally loses his cool with this slob. Del’s a good-natured guy, but he’s just too much for Neal when it comes to being friendly. And Neal blows up and lets him have it; at one point, he states that he could tolerate an insurance seminar before sitting next to Del on the plane and listening to him tell his boring anecdotes again. This kind of thing usually happens near the final act of your typical buddy comedy–but this is not your typical buddy comedy, as writer-director John Hughes will assure you. (This isn’t the only time Hughes toys with conventional story elements in this movie.)

Steve Martin’s long rant is funny…but the scene doesn’t entirely play for laughs. During this rant, we often cut back to John Candy’s face as the character takes it all in with genuine pain–and when Martin is finally done, Candy delivers a heartfelt monologue of his own, resulting in a wonderfully touching moment that makes me forget I’m watching a comedy.

Oh, and the morning after…is always a riot to watch. (“THOSE AREN’T PILLOWS!”)

This is only the first act! The rest of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” includes a lot of great moments that follow, such as Neal trying to lose Del while fate keeps bringing them back together, they take a train, they rent a car, Neal has his infamous profane breakdown in front of an auto clerk, Neal and Del realize THEY’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY on an expressway, they finally become friends and learn a lot about each other on their journey to get Neal home in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family… There’s just so much going on in this movie, and at barely an hour-and-a-half of running time, every minute counts.

A lot of it is very funny and the rest of it is very endearing. I already mentioned Del’s reaction to Neal’s angry words towards him (which is one of my favorite moments in any film honestly). But there are some more tearjerking moments that come right near the end.

And this movie earns those tears. We’ve spent this entire movie getting to know these two characters, and by the end of it all, we love them both.

Oh, and here’s a delicious piece of irony–if Del and Neal had just stayed at the Wichita airport, they would’ve been able to catch a flight out and make it to Chicago right on time. But where’s the fun in that?

I truly love this movie and I’ll be watching it with my family this Thanksgiving Day. It is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time.

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