The Tuesday Before Thanksgiving Tradition blazes on for another year as Steve Martin and John Candy travel from New York City to Wichita, Kansas and then who knows where all while trying to reach their final destination of Chicago, Illinois in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Despite the fact that “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” was made in 1987 before the age of cell phones, personal navigation systems, Priceline .com and Ubers, it remains a timeless classic of inadvertent comedy. Travel is still as frustrating, maybe more so now, and family kinship is still treasured.
Martin plays Marketing Executive Neil Page, forced to succumb to the unwanted company of Shower Curtain Ring Salesman Del Griffeth (Candy). One inconvenience after another delays Neil from getting home to his family for the holiday. Del wants to be helpful, yet he is anything but.
The roles are perfectly cast. One of the best on screen couples of all time. I imagine had John Candy not passed away so young, he would have been paired up with Steve Martin at least one more time.
Writer/Director John Hughes is a master at taking simple circumstances (detention on a Saturday, skipping school, traveling) and blossoming it into episodes of relatability amplified in both comedy and drama. His knack for dialogue is a huge factor in his scenes. Consider the best scene in the film between Martin and favorite character actor Edie McClurg where 19 F- bombs are tossed over the mix up of a rental car. It happens all the time to any one of us, and Hughes took advantage of the frustration and built comedy that comes from it. Its not funny when you are in the moment. It’s funny when you recall the moment later on. It’s a brilliant scene.
Nut grabbing, taxi races, ride hitching in 1 degree weather, bed sharing with what you think are pillows, burning cars, wrong way driving, encounters with death and the devil, “The Canadian Mounted,” and a perfect excuse to use Ray Charles’ rockin’ “Mess Around” all point to a reason for a climax that arguably (on the first time any of us saw the film) we never expected or considered. If you don’t choke up, you have no soul.
Hughes was all too familiar with the meaning of Thanksgiving when he wrote “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” I like to think those that see the film are even better for having watched it.
It’s a very funny movie, but it’s very special movie as well.
Give thanks, offer what you can, when you can, and Happy Thanksgiving.