This film has got to be hands down one of the funniest movies ever made. Though I would suggest not watching it after travelling, as it might be more of a painful reminder than a hysterical interlude. Martin and Candy are at their very best as two men just trying to get from New York to Chicago before Thanksgiving. As the title suggest, they use every type of travelling conveyance on their 3 day journey to hell and back. Having recently had a trip a third as painful, all I can say is blood would have been shed if their experiences had happened to me. What makes the situations funny, besides the great writing and acting, is the fact that this is not happening to you. There's nothing funnier than other peoples pain, and PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a perfect example of that tenet. The first 10 times I saw this movie, I sided with Martin's character, finding Candy to be the most annoying creature on Earth. However, this last time, I finally saw the brilliance of John Candy and felt the desperate loneliness of his character. You will never forget Dell Griffith due to Candy's pitch perfect performance. Martin is also amazing, but he has the showier, more sympathetic role. Fat is funny, but you don't want to share a bed with it.
From the get go, you know that Neal (Martin) will not be making his evening flight out of New York. If he did, there'd be no movie. In an amazing chase scene that must have really pissed off real New Yorkers, Neal battles with another New Yorker, played by Kevin Bacon, for what seems to be the last cab on Earth. He gets there in time, but is tripped by a large trunk and loses the coveted prize. Once at the airport things don't get any better. The flight is delayed, he's bumped from first class to coach and stuck next to the most annoying man you never want to meet Dell Griffith (Candy), shower curtain ring salesman. Not only does he encroach on Neal's physical space, but he refuses to leave him in peace, chattering away the entire flight. When their flight is rerouted to Kansas and they are stranded for the night, Neal has no choice but to accept Dell's bighearted offer to share his room, which is the last in the city. The room sequence is one of the funniest in the movie and gives both men plenty of room to showcase their prodigious comedic talents. Martin delivers the first of his classic tirades, deriding Dell for essentially being a plague on humanity for his insensitivity and bad habits. Dell is hurt by the Neal's comments, but refuses to back down. Many people like him. Maybe it's Neal who has the problem. Candy is so good here, you'll begin to think that too.
The middle section of the film has them initially separating at the train station, but fate conspires to keep bringing them together. Their adventures have them travelling by bus, pick-up truck, in the back of a semi-freezer car and finally by rental car. The rental car counter is the scene of Martin's second tirade where he brings use of the f-word to new and profane heights. Only in a movie like CLERKS, is it used more in a one minute stretch of screen time. Neal is again forced to rely on Dell's hospitality and even begins to begrudgingly give him credit for his ingenuity to raise cash for the weary and hungry duo. The evening culminates in the car trip from hell, where they leave a wide swath of destruction everywhere they go. Neal begins to think he'll never be rid of this man who continues to wreak havoc in his life. Even the tragedies that befall Dell inevitably become Neal's problems. By the end of the film, their experiences together have formed a strong, if unlikely bond between the two men. Both men learn a great deal about themselves and are able to put themselves in the other's shoes. They may not become the best of friends, but they are able to look into each other's souls and like what they see. The movie ends as it should, with Neal finally making it home and Dell finding a place where he's accepted.
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is the culmination of Hughes's 80s films that began with SIXTEEN CANDLES. It is certainly his most adult film with not a surly teen or cute moppet to be found. This film shows that he has a talent for clever, biting, outrageous adult humor. At the core of his best films are characters we can all relate to who are far from perfect, but extremely likable all the same. Everyone learns something about themselves, but the direction and writing keep that fact from being obnoxious and overt. Both men are changed by their adventure, helping them to be slightly better people. However, I still wouldn't want to be stuck next to Dell on an airplane. Hughes creates characters that begin as stereotypes and end as human beings. Between all the laughs there is some serious character development going on. You don't realize it the first couple of times because you're laughing so hard at the situations, but Hughes is a better writer than most people give him credit for. With every viewing I find nuances I never saw before. A holiday perennial in our home, I look forward to visiting with Dell and Neal every time.
If you've never seen this film, you are missing a true comedy classic. Martin and Candy have never been better. Though the plot is overblown with mishaps, their misadventures all stay close to reality. Granted the odds of them happening all in one trip are astronomical, but each hurdle is believable and hysterical in its own right. After travelling this past winter, I've come closer to thinking of this film as a documentary than a comedy. If you're started a DVD collection, this is one to have, but only because it's such a great movie. There are no extras to be found, despite the claims to the contrary. I can only hope Hughes and Martin will find it in their hearts to film some sort of record about the making of this film. It would be a shame to lose those memories forever.