I am Thankful For… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think about and am thankful for a few things. First, I think of family. God has blessed me with an amazing family. I have the best parents and siblings anyone could ask for. I have an amazing wife and wonderful children. Second, I think of food. If that makes me shallow, so be it. I am a simple man with simple needs, and food makes me happy on a very basic level. As you can see from my profile picture at the end of this article, I probably like food a little too much, but that is a story for another day. Food is awesome and Thanksgiving food, enjoyed with family and friends, is even more awesome.
An Odd Couple on a Road Trip
Finally, I think of Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the 1987 classic film from John Hughes. Yes, a movie. Of course, there are literally hundreds of things in my life that are more important than a movie, but that’s not really the point. This isn’t some hierarchy of thankfulness. My reasoning is simple: the truth of the matter is, there really isn’t a Thanksgiving Movie genre. Sure, there are a few out there, but it is a mostly unexplored narrative territory. Most other major holidays have no lack of representation on film. I think the lack of Thanksgiving films is directly tied to our natural inclination of ungratefulness. So, when a great film comes along that is not only set around Thanksgiving but also captures everything that is wonderful and important about the holiday, it is my duty to celebrate it. Simply put, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is not just a Thanksgiving film because the plot centers on Thanksgiving.
If you haven’t seen the film (why haven’t you seen the film?!?) it is a road trip, odd couple mash-up. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, the put-upon, straight-laced lead while John Candy plays Del Griffith, the annoying, loud, obnoxious supporting character who ends up traveling across the country with Martin’s character. The film comes up with a number of uncomfortable situations for these amazing actors to play off each other – and they never disappoint. Martin is perfect in his boiling, seething frustration while Candy was never better, playing a seemingly clueless buffoon. While both are great, it’s Candy who steals the film. He is somehow able to imbue a character, who should be too annoying to care about, with humanity and depth. Honestly, it is award level acting, and it gets overlooked because he makes it look so easy.
Don’t Miss the Deeper Magic
A surface-level reading of the film misses the deeper magic at play behind all the jokes and insanity. At its very heart, the film tells a story of grace, forgiveness, and seeing the humanity in everyone we encounter. I have written before about being slow to judge, of listening to the storyline of everyone we encounter. There is probably no better example of that in popular culture than Planes, Trains and Automobiles. After the film has completely stripped away our defenses with perfectly timed jokes, quips, and comedic perfection, it lays its soul bare and reveals the beating heart that is most important.
All the Feels!
The end of the film gets me every time. Watching Neal realize the truth behind Del’s story, all the way to the two of them hauling Del’s ridiculous trunk down the street to Neal’s house, the film makes no effort to hide its true sensibilities. The film is about family: our desperate need for connection and acceptance. What is a more Thanksgiving message than that?
One Note of Caution
The film is rated R. We don’t review a lot of R rated movies on Rambling Ever On. We made the exception for this one since outside of two scenes – one early in the film in a taxi with some inappropriate pin-up girl type pictures and the second a scene at a car-rental location that is expletive-filled – the film is incredibly clean and family-friendly. As always, we urge you to be cautious and vigilant about what you watch.
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5 thoughts on “I am Thankful For… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles””
Have not seen that movie. Maybe this year would be the time.
This is one of my favorite movies on so many levels. The chemistry between Martin and Candy is as good as it gets. The thing that makes it one of my favorites is where it takes you. Del Griffith is one of the great characters in any movie. This film offers a tremendous picture of grace and forgiveness that is rarely captured. You wrote that Del Griffith was a character that “too annoying to care about”, and this is true. There are so many cringe worthy scenes from taking his socks and shoes off on the plane, leaving the wet washcloth on the floor of the bathroom for Martin to step on (which still makes my skin crawl every time I see it), to leaving his socks in the sink, and underwear on the sink. There are so many instances, even what he does for a living, he sells shower curtain rings (my apologies to all the shower curtain ring salesman out there). Everything about him is annoying, even his career. The writing is so brilliant because Martin’s character has no reason to show compassion to Candy’s character. Beyond general annoyance, he essentially stole from him, by using his credit card to rent a car, and then destroys it. The writing is so brilliant, because it takes a character that none of us would show compassion to, and reveal that there is often more to the story. One of the telling thing throughout the movie is the trunk that Del carries around. Everything Del owned was in that trunk. He had been living out of it for years. Yet, neither Neal, nor the audience asks “Why on earth would someone be carrying a trunk like that around on a business trip”. It is subtle, but brilliant in the way it drives to grace and forgiveness. Page had everything that Del was lacking. He had a family, a home, and the joy that had left Del since his wife died. It forces it’s viewer to transition from seeing Del as a loudmouth, obnoxious, and credit card stealing “buffoon”, to a character that had been beaten up by life, and was incapable of saving himself. I love this movie on every level. Thank you for reviewing it, and giving it it’s proper due respect.
I should have let you write the review! Great commentary.
“Last baby she had… came out sideways. She didn’t scream or nothin.’”
Love this movie… not necessarily for this quote, but it one of SEVERAL (most of the movie) I have memorized. Haha!
It is full of great lines and moments.