Reviewed by: Eric Schmidt
Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy | Director: John Hughes | Producers: John Hughes, Bill Brown, Michael Chinich, Neil A. Machlis | Writer: John Hughes | Released By: Paramount
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is director John Hughes’ masterpiece—much deeper and more complex than his earlier credits, including “Sixteen Candles,” “Weird Science,” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (which he also wrote the screenplay for).
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles utilizes the age-old theme of two decidedly different people becoming inseparable from each other and learning to get along. Those two people are Neal Page, a stuffy, reserved marketer played by Steve Martin, and Del Griffith, a blabbermouth “shower curtain ring” salesman who won’t leave Neal alone, delightfully played by John Candy.
In an early scene, Del accidentally takes Neil’s cab in New York City, preventing him from getting to the airport in time for his flight—which is delayed anyway. At the airport, they run into each other again; it turns out they are both riding the same plane to Chicago. Neil just wants to get home for Thanksgiving turkey with his family, but it is never quite established what Del wants to go to Chicago for. Del emphatically apologizes for the cab incident, going a little overboard while doing so. We cut to the interior of the airplane, where Neil, fed up with the airline attendant, proclaims, “First you delay me, then you bump me. I can’t wait to see what’s next!” You guessed it; he ends up sitting right next to Del, who never shuts up for the length of the flight. This quickly establishes Del as a lonely guy who’s always looking for friends but can’t find many because of his too-friendly personality.
As it turns out, the two are unable to land in Chicago because of a blizzard, and end up in Wichita. With all the hotels in the area seemingly booked, good-natured Del offers to have Neil spend the night with him at an inner-city hotel whose owner might give them a deal because “I sold him some shower curtain rings a couple years ago; he owes me one.” This sets the stage for a group of hilarious misadventures as the two try for days to get Neil back home.
On the outside, the film appears to be merely a comedy about two guys trying to get home for Thanksgiving dinner; but if you look closely, you’ll find that it’s really a very in-depth character study about acceptance, or learning to find the best in someone and reaching out a helping hand to someone who needs one.
I won’t give away the ending, where all is revealed about Del, but I assure you it will leave you wondering why a film this heartfelt received an R rating. The rating is primarily for one scene, which can be easily fast-forwarded, in which Neil loses his grip on things at a car rental center and spews out a chorus of F-words which are used to describe every car he mentions. Very unbecoming in such a well-done film—but like I said: parents, screen this film and you’ll know right where to press the fast-forward button. Or even better—tape an edited TV version. Other than this incident, there is a little mild profanity as Neil and Del struggle to overcome their differences, but nothing as bad as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
This film is a movie to be treasured, really. Although it’s labeled R, it has so much great stuff in it that it deserves to be shown to all ages, provided that the minor offensive moments are edited out.