It’s unfortunate that both John Candy and John Hughes are no longer with us. John Candy was a genuinely awesome man who always put heart and effort into every one of his roles. He was the best type of comedic actor and he’ll never be forgotten. John Hughes gave us some of the best comedy films of the 80’s, and his work has influenced many who are currently working in the industry. Although Hughes is mostly notable for his 80’s teen comedy films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles, his 1987 adult oriented comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles is arguably his best work. It’s one of the best comedies of the 80’s, and it has become a traditional viewing for many around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles follows Neal Page (Steve Martin), a callous businessman type who’s struggling to get home to his family in Chicago, IL in time for Thanksgiving. Del Griffith (John Candy), a kindhearted slob who sells shower curtain rings for a living ring ends up being Neal’s unexpected (and unwanted) travel companion.
One of the best things about Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the remarkable chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy. Martin makes for a great callous jerk as Neal Page and Candy makes for a great loveable oaf as Del Griffith, the exact opposite. They’re a mismatched pair, so the conflict and quarrels between them feel genuine. Their major quarrel about a third of the way into the film at the Bravewood Inn stands out the most. Both of their character personalities and qualities are brilliantly put on display in that scene. If there had been no chemistry between them, this film wouldn’t have worked, nor would it have been very funny.
Another great thing about the film is how well it progresses narratively. Just when you think Neal is going to have a smooth ride home, something bad happens and he ends up back with Del. Although a series of travel mishaps can be disheartening and frustrating, John Hughes manages to find a lot humor in it. Travel can be hell, especially during the holidays, so although Neal’s situation is comically exaggerated, it’s still relatable to us as viewers. Neal’s f-bomb tirade over the rental car not being in the lot near the St. Louis airport is especially memorable and hilarious. The fact that Neal and Del also bond during their travel misadventures and learn about each other for the better makes the film all the more rewarding and entertaining too.
Additionally, this is a film with a heart, and it has it in the right place. Most of that heart lies in the character of Del Griffith. He’s an oblivious slob and sometimes obnoxious, yes, but he means well and refuses to be a jerk. He’s an optimist who prefers not to dwell on the negatives in life and be insensitive to others like Neal is. The scene at the Bravewood Inn demonstrates just what kind of guy Del prefers to be and because Candy is so great in the role, you don’t ever hate Del. Neal on the other hand is a character that you want to hate because of how cold-hearted he can be, but you don’t because you’re sympathetic towards his plight. He just wants to get home to his family whom he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with. The more time Neal spends with Del, the more he lightens up and realizes what’s really important. As Del puts it: “Like your job, love your wife.” Steve Martin plays Neal so well and it just might be his best performance ever.
Almost 30 years later, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a film that’s held up remarkably well thanks to the strong writing and directing from the late John Hughes and the strong chemistry between Steve Martin and the late John Candy. As much as I love the 80’s teen comedies that John Hughes did, I consider this film to be his best work. It’s funny, heart warming, and a film that’s worthy of its praise. It’s a film that everyone should watch around the Thanksgiving holiday because it has great replay value too!