RETRO REVIEW – ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’

Written by J.T. Johnson

4-12-stars

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: November 25, 1987
DIRECTOR: John Hughes
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Donald Peterman
WRITER: John Hughes
MUSIC: Ira Newborn, Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks

By the time 1987 rolled around, John Hughes had already become the king of the teenage comedy with such hits as “The Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles”, “Pretty in Pink”, “Weird Science”, and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Now, Hughes wanted to venture into more adult comedies and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” was the director’s first real attempt at making the transition.

What most people might forget, though, is that this is the rare movie that actually centers around Thanksgiving and not Christmas like so many other films. Seriously, ask most of your friends what holiday features in this movie and they may say the one with Santa Claus before they mention Turkey Day. Since this film does take place during Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to take a look at one of Hughes’ classic films.

The story is simple enough. Steve Martin’s Neal Page is a marketing executive that is just trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, a holiday that is just around the corner. On the way to catch his plane, he runs into John Candy’s Del Griffith, a very talkative shower ring salesman.

The plane they are both on has to make an emergency landing in Wichita. Since Del can get a room and Neal is having no luck, they decide to share a room and their many misadventures begin. The movie has a dash of “The Odd Couple” in it with Neal being an uppity jackass at the beginning of the movie and Del being a sociable slob.

Martin and Candy’s chemistry is absolutely on point and you can’t wait to see where this wacky road trip of theirs will take them next. Also, unlike other films such as this, these two men are actually stuck together. Hughes crafts a believable scenario as to why Neal puts up with Del and vice versa.

Martin is the perfect straight man to Candy’s lovable idiot. Had Candy not passed away, I would not have been surprised if these two had ended up working together again. Hughes needed the two perfect comedians for this movie and thankfully, he got them.

Ultimately, this is a movie with a lot of heart in addition to the laughs. Neal and Del are genuine people who both have something to learn from one another in some surprisingly tender and real scenes. For this reason, throughout the movie, you are rooting for both these men to be successful in their journey.

Before I leave, I’ll go ahead and tell that the car rental scene where Neal drops several F-bombs is my personal favorite. That, and driving down the expressway going in the wrong direction. These scenes are followed by many more memorable moments that add to the film’s charm.

Hughes will always be remembered for his teen comedies as he should be. However, during Christmas, he gave us the ultimate holiday movie with “Christmas Vacation”. Thankfully, during the Thanksgiving holidays, he gave us “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.

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