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Cinemalphabet: P is for Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

February 6, 2013


Easily one of the funniest films of the 80s and populated with the two of the era’s most likable comedic leads, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is my go to Thanksgiving film, the way Die Hard is my go to Christmas film. A riotous buddy road trip film for anxious people like me who get panic attacks watching The Out of Towners. Its conflicts, while troublesome, are deftly mined for their comedic absurdity.


Kevin Bacon (in one of the most hilarious John Hughes movie cameos EVER) as always, is the glue holding everything in the universe together. In this case serving as the smarmy catalyst for all of Neil Page’s (Steve Martin) holiday travel woes. Cabs scarcity, indecisive bosses and bad timing just will not allow Neil’s holiday to be great!

Neil meets a chatty shower curtain ring salesman named Dell Griffith on a crowded plane and you just know things are not going to go the way Neil hopes. After being treated to a barrage of unwanted chatter and general intrusiveness, Neil and Dell form an uneasy alliance – traumatic bonding at its best – with singular purpose of getting home in time for turkey and all the fixings. Neil Page has a beautiful wife, a huge house and a daughter I went to high school with waiting for him at home. Dell has wonderful and loving wife Marie. Despite his gregarious external, one can’t help but detect undercurrent of melancholy in Dell. The role was tailor made to showcase the late John Candy’s comedic and dramatic skills. His performance is nuanced and script mines more of its Candy moments on circumstances rather than his size.

In one of the film’s most hilarious and memorable scenes, Candy and Martin find themselves in a rental car, on a dark snowy road and every second of the scene will make you laugh until you’re out of breath. Other movies would have either run the gag on too long or not taken it far enough. Director John Hughes finds the sweet spot, giving the leads a lot of room to do what they do best.

Even with all the laughs, ridiculous situations and unfortunate run-ins with well cast character actors, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a film with tremendous heart. The ending will have you wiping away tears, even if you’re not the kind of person who gets weepy at movies. And Blue Room’s rendition of the Hall & Oates song, “Every Time You Go Away” which plays in the background of the final scene is just so damn perfect. Probably my favorite version of this song.

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