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Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Directed by John Hughes

Paramount Pictures, November 25, 1987 (US)

Screenplay: John Hughes

Starring: Steve Martin and John Candy

Rental Car Clerk
(Edie McClurg): How may I help you?

Neal Page (Steve Martin): You can start by wiping that fucking dumb-ass smile off your rosy fucking cheeks. Then you can give me a fucking automobile. A fucking Datsun. A fucking Toyota. A fucking Mustang. A fucking Buick. Four fucking wheels and a seat.

Clerk: I really don’t care for the way you’re speaking to me.

Neal: And I really don’t care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere, with the fucking keys to a fucking car that isn’t fucking there. And I really didn’t care to fucking walk down a fucking highway and across a fucking runway to get back here to have you smile at my fucking face. I want a fucking car right fucking now.

They say you can’t go home again, but this is a bit ridiculous. It starts with a misunderstanding over a cab in New York City, certainly a bad omen of things to come. From there, it grows—steamrolls—past the absurd boundaries of out of control in a gut-busting journey of outrageousness. It begs second looks. More.

Neal Page’s goal is simple enough: to get home for Thanksgiving to be with his beautiful wife and kids in time for the turkey. But a funny thing happens on the way to the dance. Enter Del Griffith.

Neal: “Honey, I’d like you to meet Del Griffith. He’s got some amusing anecdotes for you. Oh, and here’s a gun so you can blow your brains out. You’ll thank me for it.” … I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days … I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. And they’d say, “How can you stand it?” And I’d say, “’Cause I’ve been with Del Griffith. I can take anything.” And you know what they’d say? They’d say, “I know what you mean. The shower curtain ring guy … whoa.”

The holidays are a time of remembrance, family and friends, those with us and those not. It is not a time particularly conducive to being alone. It is because of this fact that more than a little drama and strife will undoubtedly result if anything stands in our way of being reunited with those we love.

Del Griffith (John Candy): Six bucks and my right nut says we’re not landing in Chicago.

The airport lines stretch to the walls. So it is at the malls and grocery store checkouts. The roads are equally stuffed like the turkeys. We are all out there, on our merry or not so merry ways, on our way home for the holidays to huddle up on Thanksgiving around a fire with family and friends. The Lions play in game one. And just as fast, it is Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street. A Christmas Story. The routine. Film classics are as much a part of the tradition as the cranberry sauce, the tree’s ever-expanding collection of shiny, reflecting ornaments, the eight candlelit nights, or whatever the tradition may be.

In this regard, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles was a bit of an underdog. It is not as if holiday classics happen overnight. Traditions can only solidify with the passage of time, fermenting over generations as they seep into hearts and homes. In this spirit, the John Hughes classic is the little train that not only could, it did. And like A Christmas Story, the beauty of this gift is in the laughter that is always welcome at times like these. Indeed, the holidays can be a bittersweet pill to swallow, as we toast those in memoriam who once helped make the day so special. Certainly, any amount of laughter can never go out of style.

Neal: You’re no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room and someone who will listen to your boring stories. I mean didn’t you notice on the plane, when you starting talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag?

More than a giggle, this is a film that roars. I will always remember where I was and who I was with the first time I saw it on the big screen: DeKalb, Illinois, 1987, a four screen theater on the outskirts of campus and me falling forward in the chair, holding my stomach. Since, I have seen it too many times to count or for it to even matter. And yet, somehow it does matter. The tradition grows.

And what always seems to surprise, beyond the setups and laughter and fun, is the heart that is at the core of the film and every bit as big as the laughs. Of course it is all the more moving now with the passing of John Candy.

Del: You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you … but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like … I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ’Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.

The holidays approach. It is less than a month away to Thanksgiving. Less than a week away. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles appears on channel X just in time for its traditional hello. The journey begins with the cab ride to the airport. Hopefully soon, we will all make our way back home to laugh together.

Neal: Anyway, it’s, uh, been … interesting.

Del: (laughing) That’s the understatement of the year.