Having Steve Martin and John Candy star in a 1980s John Hughes comedy drama was probably a no brainer. The two have great chemistry together and are present for a series of funny and entertaining mishaps that accompany the pair as they attempt to return home to Chicago. The road trip movie was very much a thing by this point, yet Planes, Trains and Automobiles is definitely one of the best road movie comedies I’ve ever seen.
Another reason this movie works so well is that everyone can see themselves in both of the characters. It’s very easy to be the uptight Neal and the easy going Del, sometimes all in the same day for many people. I relate more to Del if only because I also talk too much and I try to be likable and get along with people most of the time. On my worst days I’m Neal, completely annoyed with everyone and easily ruffled by random troubles that seem to pop up at every turn. This flick sure puts both men through the ringer, which in turn is both funny and melodramatic.
In fact the comedic elements help set up the more serious parts, especially in a poignant hotel scene and a great train station part as well. John Hughes also wisely populates his movie with numerous character actors and even has three people from Ferris Buller’s Day Off making appearances. I had forgotten that Kevin Bacon is in this movie for a brief moment, and Edie McClurg has a scene stealing bit as a rental car agent. This makes the movie even funnier than it has a right to be, although the most hilarious part to me is the wrong way on the highway scene.
Other great moments include a freezing truck ride, the infamous classic “Those aren’t pillows!” bit and Neal’s very profane tirade at the car rental agency. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and it improves every viewing, which is the mark of a great movie. Shame that Martin and Candy never teamed up again, and the closest we’ve gotten to a flick like this may in fact be Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, a movie that also wisely balances comedy and drama equally well.