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Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

November 29, 2009

8/10 Road Trips From Hell

It’s Steve Martin and John Candy for an hour and a half. I should end the review right there.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is about Neal Page – a curmudgeonly businessman in NYC trying to get home to his family in Chicago for Thanksgiving. In a nutshell, everything goes wrong for Neal and he ends up having to spend the next three days making his way from state to state with Del Griffiths – a jovial shower curtain ring salesman who is about as intolerable an individual as Neal can imagine.

Yeah, this one’s a bit late, but I had to give myself a refresher if I was gonna be reviewing the best Thanksgiving movie of all-time. That’s a lot of pressure right there.

I guess the best place to start is with the Neal and Del themselves. Steve Martin’s always been hilarious, John Candy’s always been hilarious, and together, they are still hilarious. Bizarre, I know. The whole Odd Couple dynamic isn’t anything new, but the conflicting personalities of these two guys not only leaves a lot of room for character development but makes Del seem that much more annoying and Neal that much more of a tight-ass. Just a fine casting choice. They both really look the part, too.

But, granted, these guys could have been given a script called Flugzeug, Lokomotive und Automobil, been forced to deliver all their lines in German, and it still would have been hilarious. Still, it doesn’t hurt that John Hughes’ script is damn funny in its own right. Hughes’ formula goes as such: “How can I make Del as aggravating as humanly possible all the while keeping him endearing and likable to everyone but Neal, how can I make Neal’s life increasingly worse over the course of three days without killing him, how many times can a single mode of transportation fail without it getting old, and how can I force these two guys to stay together without having one kill the other. Must avoid killing off Neal and Del.” Simple enough, and it ends up being a pretty effective formula at that.

This is one of those schadenfreude scripts (learned that one from Avenue Q) where a lot of the humor comes from the audience reveling in the misery of the characters on-screen. The plot just goes from one nightmare situation to the next, and even when Neal and Del aren’t together, not a single thing goes right until the very end when Neal gets home and everything gets a little heavy. And since every new scene naturally has to one-up the obstacle before it, the laughs don’t let up.

But one of the best things about Planes, Trains and Automobiles, aside from how freakin’ funny it is, is the said heavy ending. You don’t see it coming, but it’s a welcome surprise that really brings everything full-circle and adds this big heart to the story that you didn’t even know was there. That John Hughes, man. He knew how to write a script.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving classic because it never gets old, partly because there aren’t a whole lot of movies that feature Steve Martin dropping a salvo of F-bombs on Principal Rooney’s secretary from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Lots of heart, really funny script, really funny actors, and a great bit role for Dylan Baker (aka: That Guy) as this hillbilly bastard that make for a solid 90 minutes of comic gold.

Bonus points for cameos by Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein, Michael McKean.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 1, 2009 7:43 pm

    Hahahahahah! Thank you so much for reviewing this! I knew you would too.

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