Movie Review: Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
“Pack in the Laughter!”
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Director: John Hughes
Cast: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins
Synopsis: A businessman’s struggles to get home for Thanksgiving are complicated by his well-meaning but slovenly traveling companion.
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We’ve all been there: trapped on public transport with a nightmare travelling companion who refuses to pick up on the anti-social vibes we’re sending out with increasing frustration and despair. For advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, It’s Complicated), in John Hughes’ consistently amusing Planes, Trains & Automobiles, the nightmare comes in the rotund form of shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy – The Blues Brothers, JFK), the kind of jocular soul who thinks nothing of removing his socks to massage his feet while sat next to you on a plane.
Page is trying to get home to his family in Chicago in time for Thanksgiving after attending a meeting in New York, but fate and the weather conspire to foil him at every stage of the journey. Bad weather sees his flight grounded in Arizona, and, against his better judgment, Neal accepts Griffith’s offer of a room at a motel, a decision which gives rise to one of the funniest movie scenes of the 1980s (“See that Bears game last week?”). Things don’t get any better as what should have been a quick flight home becomes a soul-destroying trial of endurance which tests Neal’s patience at every junction.
John Hughes’ screenplay skilfully negotiates the tricky task of keeping both men likeable, even as we see them at their worst. We sympathise with Neal and share his frustration because he simply can’t catch a break, and because Del is one of those well-meaning people whose big heart offers scant reprieve from his unintentionally irritating ways. He’s also a genuinely sweet guy with not a malicious bone in his body. The night before that hilarious Bears conversation, there’s a superb confrontation between the two men in which their true natures become apparent, and for the first time we realise that Neal is as much of a nightmare to be with as Del is, and that the trip would run a lot smoother if only he could see that. Del might be an overweight, slovenly heap of a man, but he has none of Neal’s innate prejudice, or preconceived notions of another’s worth.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is one of those rare comedies that is as funny in its final act as it is in its first. Martin and Candy work well off one another, with Martin generously allowing Candy to milk so many laughs from Hughes’s polished screenplay that it’s impossible to single out one moment as funnier than any other. An over-sentimental ending proves to be an uncharacteristic misstep, but otherwise Planes, Trains & Automobiles is undoubtedly one to savour.
(Reviewed 30th September 2016)