Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I don't want to admit this, but I've somehow never seen today's movie. How have I avoided it for so long? The only answer I could think of when pressed to answer is that "The title always sounded educational or something." Planes, Trains and Automobiles is known to most as the classic 1987 John Hughes film, but I think it used to be a slogan for a local hobby shop, which might have soured the thought of watching it. I really have no excuse, though. I can't believe no one introduced me to this, and I can't believe that I never rented it on my own.

I loved this movie! Anthony and I were laughing so hard the entire time. There was even a point where I started crying, I was laughing so hard. Steve Martin and John Candy were so perfect. It was sort of corny at times, especially with the soundtrack, but it somehow just made it even better. The acting felt so natural, and even though the comedy was pretty over the top, it just felt totally plausible at points. I really can't believe how great this movie was, and that I never saw it before. I needed a good laugh, and this was beyond perfect for me.

The movie is about Neal, an uptight businessman,who is trying to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. Of course, he can't hail a cab to get to the airport, and ends up bribing someone for one. Del, a loud, sloppy man who sells shower curtain rings, grabs the cab before Neal can get in it. He seems to feel genuinely bad about it, and offers to help Neal get home. The two of them pair up and suffer through disaster after disaster as they both try to get back to Chicago. There is a real story under all of the jokes, as well, which is what makes it such an effective movie. It's not just pandering for laughs and full of dopey characters (like, *ahem*, Due Date), but actually shows the way that two people form a friendship, and bond over unlikely circumstances. They at first loathe each other, because they are so different, but they find themselves having fun and caring for each other, too.

The problem with writing about this movie is that I don't want to write about things like direction and themes. I want to just talk about all my favorite scenes, all the moments that had me laughing until my stomach hurt. It seems like I'd just be pointing out the obvious to say that Steve Martin and John Candy were perfect for these roles. I have to say it anyway, though - I'm sorry, but they were perfect. Ebert writes that they were so great because they were just themselves, they didn't have to act. I got that sense too, like they were genuinely just having fun. They didn't have to really go too far out of their comfort zones for the film, I would venture. It felt so genuine because I think it was so genuine.

I love John Hughes, I really do. His movies never get old for me, and they just seem to get funnier. I grew up watching so many of them (like everyone did, it seems), and they feel so familiar and fun. His writing was truly great - he had such a gift of blending something that had a great plot with great jokes. He always seemed to be able to tap into what roles would be perfect for the actors.  "The buried story engine of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," writes Ebert,  " is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels" (Great Movies II, 336). I think this is often what makes John Hughes movies so great, and why I always find myself watching them over and over again, and never finding them getting boring, somehow.

How did Ebert even manage such a long essay on this movie? This is why he has a Pulitzer Prize, I guess. For the ability to talk about comedy without just paraphrasing jokes. I find movies like this to sometimes be the hardest to write about! I just can't stop thinking about all the funny scenes! The infamous rant of f-bombs. "Those aren't pillows!" Del turning into Satan as he drives the wrong way down the expressway. Neal's reaction after Del drives the burnt-out car into the motel. The way Neal runs with his luggage. The race against Kevin Bacon for a cab. The Casio watch. Del waving his disgusting socks around on the plane. I could keep going, but there's no reason to. Just go rent this movie and watch it again, it's pretty much amazing!

Have any thoughts on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
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