Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

1st December 2021

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is available to rent or buy now.

Everyone has a go-to comedy that cheers us up when we feel down, gives us hope when we feel hopeless, and makes us laugh when we need a hit of endorphins; for me, it is the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Anyone who has commuted long distances for work understands the premise at the heart of Hughes’ movie; after all, the experience of strikes, delays and cancellations has impacted more than a few of us when all we want to do is get home. Planes, Trains and Automobiles takes this premise and layers the comedy that ensues with discussions of work, home, happiness, and the balance between all three. Here, we have two characters who, for differing reasons, are nomadic. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is a successful businessman working in the ad industry, with his identity built around his job and income. Meanwhile, Del Griffith (John Candy) is a man who buys and sells whatever he can to maintain a meagre existence.

While Neal’s nomadic business life is built on a need to provide for his family, Del’s isolation is born of a loss he hasn’t fully processed. Planes, Trains and Automobiles dissects 80s capitalism by opening up a debate on the winners and losers of the American dream and the thin line dividing them. Here, themes of home, family, partnership, loss and support are explored through an unlikely yet tender friendship of convenience. For Neal Page, personal change comes through his realisation that family and friendship are far more important than work, while for Del Griffith, hope is born through an unlikely friendship that allows him to finally grieve for his late wife. Neal and Del find each other at just the right time, their turbulent and random meeting an unexpected new beginning for them both.

These deep social undercurrents ensure Planes, Trains, and Automobiles offers us far more than beautifully timed comedy as it packs an unexpected emotional punch. Hughes’ outstanding screenplay brings us a series of stunning and beautifully performed set pieces that are forever lodged in the viewer’s memory, from a cheap motel room with one bed to a flaming hot car journey and a rental car counter meltdown. Many classic comedies diminish in their impact and humour over time, the comedy firmly attached to a set time and place. Yet, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, like The Pink Panther Returns or Home Alone, remains as funny today as it was in 1987 due to the timeless humour and a message that carries even more weight now than it did on the film’s release.

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