The original Cinema Parrot Disco link: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
John Hughes will always be remembered for the films he wrote, produced, and/or directed in the 1980s. Of the eight films he directed, only four were actually good. The first three are 1984’s Sixteen Candles, 1985’s The Breakfast Club, and 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The last good film Hughes directed was 1987’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. This film differed from the other three; the main characters here were adults whereas the protagonists in the other three films were teenagers. Seeing this film again after so many years, I’m glad to say that it has held up remarkably well. Out of these four films, this one is my favorite John Hughes film, and I’m glad to offer my review of it for the John Hughes Blogathon being run by table9mutant from Cinema Parrot Disco.
The film begins with Neal Page, a marketing executive who’s on a business trip to New York City. Once his work is done, he tries to catch a flight back home to Chicago so that he can be with his wife and kids for Thanksgiving. His attempts to catch a cab to LaGuardia Airport are inadvertently thwarted by Del Griffith, a traveling salesman who later ends up on the same flight as Neal. Their flight gets diverted to Wichita due to a blizzard in Chicago, and the duo end up teaming together in their efforts to reach Chicago. Their odyssey eventually involves a train, a bus, and a rental car as they encounter one bizarre situation after another. Neal and Del quarrel for most of their journey, which ultimately yields some surprises as Thanksgiving approaches.
Steve Martin and John Candy shine as Neal and Del. Martin clearly wasn’t afraid to embrace the not-so-sympathetic Neal. The metaphorical journey taken by Neal allows him to see what kind of man he’s become and even allows for some personal growth. Candy brings warmth and a degree of clumsiness to the lovable Del. Candy’s performance manages to subtly hint at the sadness and loneliness of Del while maintaining his optimism. The biggest scene stealer among the supporting cast is Edie McClurg, who plays a rental car agent in the scene that got the film its R-rating (guess how many times the ‘f’ word was said). Her character never loses her cool, and in a way she’s triumphant at the end of her scene.
Hughes had been inspired by a real disaster of a trip he had gone on before (which actually lasted longer than the trip depicted in the film). Hughes had directed films filled with teen angst up until this point; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles marked a refreshing change of pace for Hughes. This film was the first of his directorial efforts to focus mainly on adult protagonists (family has always been an underlying theme in his films). The somewhat juvenile humor of his previous films is also present here, but not in a manner that takes away from the serious issues that are explored. While it would be nice to see the fabled three-hour version of this film someday, we’ll just have to settle for watching the version that was released (which is definitely worth watching, I must say). You simply cannot go wrong with this film.