Monday, November 18, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Can you believe the holidays are almost here? Yikes, the older I get the faster the year flies by. The holiday’s proximity hadn’t really hit me until this weekend’s Sunday drive to visit my ‘cuz, who’s recuperating from surgery. After flipping through countless radio stations to pass the time, I landed on one running a 70’s broadcast of a Casey Kasem America’s Top 40 special on Christmas songs. I stayed on the station for the bulk of the ride, drawn in as much by Casey’s incredibly smooth voice as by the songs. That man’s voice was pure magic, and to think now we’re stuck with Ryan Seacrest for the Top 40, but anyway, I digress. After a fun family visit, I drove home under gray skies and showers which sort of put a damper on my original plans to go to the movies, so I drove home instead and hunkered down on the couch with a couple pillows, a fluffy blanket, and of course Jasmin curled up against my legs which meant I was doomed to keeping the lower half of my body completely immobile for the duration of the movie I was ordering through OnDemand.

Now in the holiday spirit thanks to Casey, Rudolph and the Jackson Five, I decided to order one of my favorite holiday-themed films, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Written and directed by the late, great John Hughes, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is easily one of the best odd-couple/buddy films ever made, starring Steve Martin and the brilliant John Candy. For those rare few who haven’t seen it, the film tells the story of Neal Page (Martin), an uptight advertising exec in New York City on business who is trying to catch a flight home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. It seems like the fates have conspired against Neal making it home for there’s an obstacle placed every step of the way on just his trip to the airport, including first tripping over a steamer trunk on the sidewalk as he’s racing another pedestrian for a cab, and then having successfully bribed another rider to give up his cab, having said cab stolen right out from under his nose. A bus ride gets him to the airport in time for the flight, only to face a delay and the jerk who stole his cab, Del Griffith (Candy), a jovial, down-to-earth, loudmouth who happens to be a shower curtain ring salesman. Stuck sitting next to Del, who hasn’t heard a joke or story he doesn’t just have to share, Neal is already in a bad mood which quickly turns sour as the already delayed plane to Chicago is now diverted to Wichita, Kansas due a storm-related closure at O’Hare.

Stranded at the airport without a hotel room, since he took the time to call home first, despite his better instincts Neal is forced to accept Del’s generous offer of a shared room at a sleazy and cheap motel nearby. Hilarity follows as Neal and Del face every imaginable road block to getting home, including a robbery, a broken train, and a fire to name a few; nonetheless, Del makes it his personal mission to get Neal home, whether he asks for help or not. As the two reluctant travel partners travel from NYC to Chicago via Wichita and then St. Louis, these very different men will learn a little about each other and a lot about themselves; and if they make it home alive, they’ll be better men for the experience.

I love this movie. I have a small list of must see holiday movies which I try to catch each holiday season, which includes Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (both the Boris Karloff narrated cartoon and the Jim Carrey movie), and this film of course. It’s a wonderful story filled with laughs, a few tears, and even a little bit of redemption, with an ending that is everything you’d expect for a holiday film.

John Candy gives an incredibly funny, moving and at times bittersweet performance in what was undoubtedly the best film in his too short career. While he handles the slapstick humor masterfully, it is those touching and poignant moments where he truly shines and becomes the movies beating heart, such as when fed up with Del’s annoying loudmouth, slovenly, and chatty-cathy ways, Neal rips into him; and Del looks at him with this wounded look, as if each word was a physical blow and then haltingly says “You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right. I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you, but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me. I'm not changing. I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get” …that moment tears me up every darned time.

You can't help but love Del because while he is all of those things Neal says; annoying, cloying, a slob and a loud-mouth; he’s also all heart, and while you understand Neal’s frustration, at the same time, if you ask me, he’s pretty ungrateful because through it all, Del is constantly trying to help. Giving. Kind of like the giving tree from that kid’s book. Of course, since it’s a film, every character is allowed a learning curve and to reference another holiday movie, Neal’s heart grows two sizes that day, and he’s definitely a kinder man by the end of the movie.

As I mentioned before, this movie classic was written and directed by John Hughes, the incredible writing (and in some cases directing) talent behind such enduring 80’s films as Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, to name only a few. John Hughes films all offered an incredible insight into the teen psyche, and while this more adult themed film was a bit of a departure from the teen films which preceded it, it is nonetheless a beautifully written story which feels very real, both thanks to his accomplished storytelling and the two actors perfectly cast in the lead roles.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles sheer brilliance lies in how effortlessly it touches our hearts; making us laugh and cry, and laugh all over again. Released in 1987, the clothes and cars may be outdated, but the laughs are timeless.