There are plenty of classic Christmas flicks, classic Halloween flicks, but barely any decent Thanksgiving movies. For some reason, Thanksgiving is a neglected holiday in terms of movie-making. That being said, there is one Thanksgiving movie that not only is far and above the best of its kind, it also stands as one of the greatest holiday pictures of all-time. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was John Candy at his best, Steve Martin at his best, and also writer/director John Hughes at his absolute prime. Mixing classic slapstick with outstanding dialogue, masterpiece moments, and a heavy dosage of heart that slowly builds then delivers towards the end, this 1987 film never preaches and never slows down a second. Every five minute a conflict arises, usually leading to a hilarious conclusion but lessons learned from the two main characters. This is a must see every fourth Thursday in November.
In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a bumbling cynical marketing success story (Steve Martin) meets a talkative yet helpful and loving traveling salesman (John Candy) as they both embark on a road trip across the snow-infested United States to reach Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. All sorts of transportation are used, but they are all failing and letting down the two main characters for different reasons. Flights are being delayed, trains are breaking down, traffic is heavy, car rental places aren't being reliable, and vehicles are fighting against Mother Nature. John Hughes is the sole writer in this tale, and manages to deliver plenty of laughs, one-liners and complications in a short 93 minutes. Throughout all the troubles, Neal and Del learn a lot about each other, and a bit more about themselves.
Steve Martin and John Candy were decent before, but absolutely delivered in this movie. Both fit their roles perfectly well; as we see Steve Martin at his funniest and angriest, and John Candy in his most down-to-earth role. Neither of the two ever stole the spotlight, they each shared incredible moments; whether it's the close encounter with two trucks, waking up together very close, or driving a car obviously not fit for the road. Individually, they each had one classic moment; with Martin's tirade at a rental place and Candy singing Ray Charles by himself while driving. There was such an amazing balance in this movie, it would be years before we see such chemistry amongst the main two stars in a film (See: Dumb and Dumber in 1994).
John Hughes, known for his teen comedies that mesh hilarity with angst and heart, reached his quality peak here. He successfully combines comedy and drama for adults, and packs layers of emotion within 93 minutes. One can dissect this movie and realize it's much deeper than it looks from the outside. One has to see the movie a second time, because some of the elements make more sense after seeing the ending. And what can I say about the ending? It was a quiet and gradual build up, then unleashes in the final moments in such a surprising manner. Martin and Candy prove that they can do drama just as well as comedy in the final five minutes. Decades later, it still stands as one of the most underrated and most unexpected endings you'll ever see. After laughing until you are teary-eyed within the first 80-something minutes, your throat will suddenly swell up upon seeing certain revelations and ugly truths.
Bottom Line: No more discussion, I think I've said enough about this film; if you have seen this movie, I am basically preaching to the choir as to how good this film is. Otherwise, you better drop everything and watch this movie now. It presents an amazing story about family, about people, about life's sudden curveballs. There isn't a better Thanksgiving movie within a country mile and this is leagues above the average holiday movie, and this does include It's a Wonderful Life, any Christmas Carol movie you can come up with, and Hughes' most successful work; which was Home Alone. The acting, writing, directing, pacing, and amount of sentimentality is incredible, as we see the best work of two veteran actors and an acclaimed writer. Bring the family and friends (and some tissue paper), and prepare for a delightful experience. Recommend to the highest degree, as movies that can age well and tug the heartstrings decades after its release deserve more praise and more viewings.