Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987)

As kids, remember how easy it was to make friends?

Perhaps a parent’s friend had kids your age, or you met a new kid on the block. You looked at that kid, and thought “We are about to be friends!”…maybe even “BFFs”. As you got older, you realized hardships would come in the way, and you would either survive them together or, sadly, have to go your own separate ways. Years would go on, and you would meet people you had no intention of being friends with, but God had other plans, and it worked out in the end.

Which leads us to Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. While known mainly for films about kids and teenagers (Home Alone, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club), writer/director John Hughes strays from that and focuses on the lives of adults. The main character Neal Page (Steve Martin) is leaving a meeting in New York that is beyond boring, rushing to the airport to get a plane back to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving with his family. Fate has other plans (including a brief race with Kevin Bacon), as he soon finds himself in the company of the ardent Del Griffith (John Candy), a salesman of shower curtain rings.

While Neal has a much harder exterior, Del is nothing short of all heart. He is constantly smiling, extremely extroverted, and constantly telling stories that seem to have no point other than to tell the story. While trying to be patient, Neal shows he clearly does not have much tolerance toward Del’s blabbermouth tendencies. On the first night, Neal finally breaks, eventually asking, “I mean, didn’t you notice on the plane when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag?”

It is during this harangue of Neal’s that we see the film is going to be more than a comedy. During the tongue lashing, we see Del’s face, and we know he is not about to retaliate with a set of comebacks. He is hurt, knowing he went too far. His response stops us the audience in our tracks, and we realize this film will be more than a slapstick buddy comedy.

This, of course, should not make it seem like the film is not at all hilarious, because it truly is. The aforementioned scene is followed by the most popular of the film. Having to share a hotel room for the night (with one bed), they wake up…cuddling. They spring out of bed after Neal delivers the film’s indeliable line, as they quickly discuss the bears (“They got a great team this year!”). Other scenes include hearing how a trucker’s wife is stronger than she looks,  Neal’s failed attempt at singing on a bus, and his overall attempts to try to distance himself from Del, even though he is slowly learning it is not in the cards.

Parents, there are some films that are given an R rating mainly for one scene, and this one is one of the most indisputable. Throughout the film, the only sexual content is a couple on a bus making out to the point of too much PDA (public display of affection), and there is casual swearing and talk one may hear in a middle school.

However, it is around the half way mark when the movie gets it’s clear-cut R rating. Neal is in line, after having walked three miles from the parking lot where his rental car was not present. After hearing the rental agent (Edie McClurg, who you would most likely remember as Grace, Principal Rooney’s assistant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) has finished talking on the phone to her family about the holidays, Neal goes on a rant, spurting 18 F-Bombs in the process (I counted). Take that scene out (which lasts no more than two minutes), and film would be fine for middle schoolers and above.

The eventual friendship of Neal and Del indeed blossoms through hardship, resulting in one of the better examples of friendship in film (other examples that come to mind are Elliot and E.T., not to mention Frodo and Sam.)

Not too long ago, it was announced that a remake of this film was in the works, starring Will Smith and Kevin Hart. I don’t know who would play what part, but it would not matter, because I am convinced it is a horrible idea. Nothing against Hart and Smith, but they can’t capture the chemistry that Martin had with Candy. Also, while Steve Martin is indeed wonderful in the film, it is John Candy we remember most. When it comes to the lovable oaf, John Candy is the first person I think of.

It was reported that, off screen, he was as kind and dear as any actor Hollywood has given us (ranking him up there with nice guys like James Stewart, Tom Hanks, and Keanu Reeves). At the end (which I won’t give away), the already warm beating heart of the film is made better when it freezes on that endearing John Candy smile, a true cherry on top. In short, my response to anyone supporting a remake of this would be “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”

In one of my many stints of teaching the kids in my church on Sunday mornings, Connor was one fourth grader in particular who was more than a handful. He was one of those kids that, if he was absent, I felt a small sigh of relief, feeling I could actually teach the other kids something. The following summer, I discovered I would be his counselor during our church’s summer camp. My reaction was in the ballpark of “God, why have your forsaken me?!?!”

Long story short, I survived the week, only to have a myriad of memories with him, as he has truly become one of my best friends.

Basically, I was Neal, and Connor was Del.

Overall: 4 1/2 out of 5

Written by

Mark A. Lester has been a dedicated movie reviewer since the age of 13, from the classics of the golden age to the blockbusters of the 21st century. He currently lives in the western suburbs of Chicago.

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