Thanksgiving films are far and few between thankfully John Hughes gave us Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I would not necessarily classify this as a “family film” unless you are secure with eighteen f-words in under a minute for a 93-minute film.
Neal Page (Steve Martin) has one goal as Thanksgiving draws closer, he wishes to see his family in Chicago. As he heads to the airport Neal chases after a cab against Kevin Bacon. Without question on this cameo, we all know who caught the cab. The second cab is taken or stolen, depending on your perspective, by a man with a large trunk. Neal arrives at the airport in the nick of time to a delayed plane. We meet Del Griffith (John Candy) reading an erotic book titled “The Canadian Mounted”. I laughed so hard seeing this book knowing John Candy is Canadian. Before the plane lands early due to weather, we quickly discover Neal is an uptight businessman and Del an obnoxious salesman.
Neal and Del end up at a hotel in Wichita forcing them to share a bed. Del’s nighttime rituals are beyond disgusting and annoying resulting in Neal losing his calm. Del responds right back at him maintaining his calm despite being cut down, “What you see is what you get.” The famous scene those familiar with the film all know and recall is in the morning with Del spooning Neal. In the end, Neal yells, “Those aren’t pillows!” as they both jump out of bed. The film continues with trucks, trains, bus, a car with a mishap, and a refrigerator truck.
In the end, Neal is home for Thanksgiving dinner, not when he wanted to be home, but home none the less. He’s a changed man because of the trip. In one instance, he unloads his anger on a rental car agent with eighteen f-words over the course of one minute. What is more tragic, Del received the greatest response from the rental car agent when he doesn’t have the rental agreement. Later Neal has compassion for Del inviting him inside the hotel from the snow. It is in this evening they have a drunken conversation bringing them close.
The reveal of Del being a widow still in love with his wife is the most heartbreaking part of the film. I was moved to tears when Neal and Del carry the crate together back to Neal’s house. Neal takes his family for granted and his growing relationship with Del helped him see this over the course of the film. When Neal becomes aware of Del’s situation it puts everything in perspective for Neal. Despite all of the humor, this is the heart and emotion of the film.
The soundtrack is not John Hughes finest films he’s directed. Some music is dated in a late 90s cheesy synthesizer or DJ of its time kind of a way. It doesn’t age well holding the film back a little for me. Del starting a bus trip sing along, after Neal failed, with the Flintstones theme song didn’t save it. This was one of the silliest soundtrack moments if we call it that. Del rocking out to “Mess Around” while he was driving was my favorite song in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
This film is full of comedy one scene after another. As mentioned previously, “Those are not pillows,” is one of the most memorable moments. The best use of the F-word is at the end Neal’s tirade against the car rental lady. After Neal unloads 18 F-words, the rental car agent uses it just once in a near perfect response. The other sequence begins with another driver attempting to alert them they are driving on the wrong side of the highway. After many failed attempts of communication, Neal tells Del, “He says we’re going the wrong way…” The car squeezes between two semi-trucks Del flashes into the devil before Neal’s eyes.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles will be a rewatch at Thanksgiving years to come. Currently, it is hard to find in digital format. Vudu has it available. I am a huge fan of local libraries where I borrowed my copy.