Need To Get In The Mood For Thanksgiving? Try Planes, Trains And Automobiles
With Thanksgiving coming up I started to try and recall movies that featured the holiday and found myself going blank. After a quick Google search, I was surprised that there were quite a few movies where Thanksgiving was prominent. (This was surprising to me considering the plethora of Christmas films that exist and the fact that what looked like a dreadful movie by Garry Marshall was entirely devoted to New Year’s Eve. Due to this fact, I thought almost no films featured that day) But, most of the films on the list looked pretty awful or were not of my taste. The Ice Storm definitely being the latter. Still, I did find a few that were good and that have a definite way of putting one in the mood for Turkey day. Planes, Trains, And Automobiles is my focus this week.
What I Remembered: I first saw this film when I was barely out of diapers. Back then I liked it a great deal and thought it was pretty funny. But, given my level of comprehension at the time I’m not that surprised at my reaction. I saw parts of it off and on in my younger years and was doubled over with laughter at particular points and actually unsettled by others. Now, being a grownup I recently decided to take another look at the entire picture. What I came away with was a piece that had moments that were extremely hilarious, a story that was good, and had poignancy, but that also felt stuck in its time period and could be nauseatingly schmaltzy and saccharine.
The Story: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles focuses on its two central characters Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffiths (John Candy). As the film begins, we meet Neal who is a marketing executive from Chicago. He is presently in New York on a business trip that has been unsuccessful. He is running to make it to La Guardia airport during rush hour for his flight back home and while trying to hail a taxi, loses it to an unseen man carrying a huge trunk full of something. (It is also implied that it is only a few days before Thanksgiving and that Neal is a family man eager to get him to his brood for the holiday.) He arrives late to the airport and believes that he has missed his flight until he sees that it has been delayed. While reading a magazine as he’s waiting to hear news about his flight he notices a man sitting across from him at the gate. The man is looking at him as if he recognizes him. Neal sees the trunk beside the stranger and realizes that he is the man who stole his cab. When the man introduces himself as Del and asks Neil where he knows him from, Neal with an annoyed look on his face, tells Del that he took his cab to the airport from Manhattan. Del apologizes and offers to buy him a coffee, but Neal declines.
When his flight finally boards, Neil finds that due to the fact that the flight was overbooked his first class seat is unavailable and he has to sit back in coach. There he finds a chaotic and irritating scene made worse by the fact that Del will be his seat mate for the entire trip. Del is chatty and slightly annoying and it’s only until Neal politely asks Del to cease talking that he stops. But, Del continues to be irksome when he takes he shoes and socks off and keeps unintentionally resting his head on Neal’s shoulder while he sleeps. The flight is diverted to Wichita due to weather and Neal finds himself stuck in the airport for the night. When Del offers to help him get a motel room through a business contact (It is surmised that Del is a traveling salesman.) Neal reluctantly agrees. Neal will now find himself paired with Del both by intention and chance for the rest of his trip home where they will use many means of transportation and undergo many different setbacks, so that Neal can be with his family on Thanksgiving. Along the way, they will learn about a great deal about themselves and each other.
Technical Details: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was not an incredible film, but it was not bad. John Hughes writing and direction were more than competent and the pacing of it was done well. The script itself was packed with moments that were humorous, realistically uncomfortable when there were arguments, and times where it was poignant especially the ending. Arguably, the most laudable aspect of Hughes direction was his ability to capture the atmosphere of the United States before Thanksgiving and the headaches that come with travel, with tremendous realism. In addition, a great highlight of the movie were the performances of Steve Martin and John Candy. Steve Martin was excellent as the slightly dispirited, often aggravated, Neal. While John Candy was both someone that you could be sympathetic to and abraded by. Playing these two characters was no easy feat as if it were not done well Neal could just come off as a self- centered mean jerk and Del could just be some idiot you could have the misfortune of being trapped with. It was a credit to both actors talent that they were able to pull of making both characters so understandable and agreeable.
However, the movie’s strongest point was its comedic moments. The famous “between two pillows” scene in the motel room was extremely funny as is the one in the rental car. But, by far my favorite moment occurred during Steve Martin’s f-bomb laden tirade when he goes to the rental car counter after being dropped of in the rental car lot, finding his car not there and then having to walk back to the airport. In that moment, having to deal with the exasperatingly perky rental car clerk is a moment I’m certain many of us have had, which is why it is so funny.
For all of its merits though, Planes, Trains and Automobiles did still have some deficiencies. First of all the movie was and is completely trapped in its era. The phone calls made on pay phones, the way credit cards, are processed, the look of the costumes and the feel of the airports, planes, cars, buses and trains featured in it, scream 1980’s. This undoubtedly dates it. Secondly, some of the scenes of Neal’s family desperately awaiting his return felt and still feel almost revoltingly overly sentimental. Finally, although the end of the film and the big truth about Del that was revealed in it and was somewhat moving, veers towards being schmaltzy once (Spoiler Alert) Neal is reunited with his family for the holiday.
End Credits: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was and mostly still is, a good movie. It is full of humor, well- acted and because it has a slightly serious underpinning to it, is more than just your average everything is going wrong kind of comedy. When you add the fact that the whole thing is set on and around Thanksgiving it is a good way to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday season. So, if you’re looking for a movie on Thanksgiving and want something that captures the moment that you’re in, you should try Planes, Trains, And Automobiles. It was not the greatest movie ever made, but it is more than worth seeing.