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Film Review: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Updated on December 27, 2015
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Review written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1987, John Hughes wrote, produced, and directed Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which starred Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, Dylan Baker, Olivia Burnette, Larry Hankin, Richard Herd, Matthew Lawrence, Edie McClurg, Bill Erwin, Ben Stein, and Diana Dill. The second film to star Martin and Candy together, it grossed $49.5 million at the box office. The film wasn’t nominated for any awards.


Advertising executive Neal Page wants to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving Day. However, from the time he leaves his office until he reaches the city, every type of transportation he uses fails in some way. Further, he gets stuck with Del Griffith, a traveling shower curtain ring salesman who won’t stop talking.


Considered to be one of the best comedies of the 1980’s and John Hughes’ most important film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is indeed a very good film. Though it’s essentially a road trip buddy comedy with half of the duo trying to get home, it presents it in a very well-made way that’s enjoyable from the time Neal steps out of his office to when he and Del get to the former’s house. Part of it is due to how both characters are incredibly entertaining when they’re with each other just as much as they are when by themselves, showing off their personalities. Del shows his opportunistic side as a salesman by selling people shower curtain rings and telling them that they are classy earrings and he never loses his smile during the whole trip. As for Neal, he’s shown to be a devoted family man, seen when he’s always calling them, but the film also shows that he’s a lot more cynical than Del, eventually letting the stress get to him and going on a curse-filled rant to the rental agent.

The film also shows the duo having to work for character development. When Neal meets Del, he gets irritated by the man’s constant talking and gets further annoyed by having to share a motel room with him following the flight cancelation in Wichita. What’s more is that he also endures Del drenching half the bed in beer, smoking, messing up the bathroom and not paying for his share and it all piling on results in a hilarious rant, to which Del responds by telling Neal that he may be an easy target, but he doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings and people like him because “what you see is what you get.” Through the rest of the film and the twosome’s trials, they continue to be at odds with each other but Neal has softened toward Del and it all culminates in the final motel stay where Del has to sleep in the burned out car, but Neal rescinds and has him come in. The two share a heartwarming and humorous bonding experience while drinking. Then it’s the end where Neal pieces everything Del’s said throughout the film together and realizes that the man continues to be who he is and remains positive about everything even though life has dealt him with some tough hands, such as his wife dying and the man not having returned to Chicago in eight years. The scene in the hotel room shows them as bonding, the end shows them as friends, but it’s also realistic character development because in between the two points, they still get into a fight which leaves Neal exasperated, all while the car burns behind them. It shows that the two have grown and become friends, but like all good friendships, they’re not always going to get along.

What’s more is the film is constantly and consistently funny. Even before Neal sets off on his trip, his way to the airport is comedic, with a western style stare-down when racing for a taxicab. There’s also the burned out car. The duo happen to find themselves on the wrong side of the road and misunderstand warnings from another motorist, thinking them to have been drinking, only to be sandwiched between two big rigs and when they get out for a moment to recover, the car catches on fire. It’s still drivable, even though none of the gauges work. But the radio still does. However, the funniest moment in the film is Neal’s aforementioned rant. He lets loose a tirade to the rental agent, who continually tells him that she’s not too fond of his language. Yet, when Neal states that he threw the rental agreement away, her two word response happens to be the funniest moment of the film.

5 stars for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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