You’re Messin’ With the Wrong Guy
November 12, 2009
As November 26 looms on the calendar, I couldn’t resist the temptation to review a movie set on (or around) “Turkey Day”; you know, the holiday that involves reuniting with loved ones and conversing while people stuff their faces with carved poultries and spoonfuls of cranberry sauce. Hugs and warm smiles abound. This, at least, is the case for most people. There are others, though, who aren’t quite as fortunate. These people find themselves caught in the middle of a war zone defined by rental cars and rusty pick-up trucks.
Enter Neal Page.
Neal (Steve Martin) is an advertising executive who, after getting caught late at a business meeting, tries to catch the last flight out of New York so that he make it home to Chicago on time to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Fate, it seems, has other plans. After losing a cab to Del Griffith (John Candy), the two haphazardly run into one another while waiting for a flight at JFK. Already annoyed by having lost a cab, Neal tries his best to avoid engaging Del in conversation. Coincidently, the two discover that their seats are next to one another on the flight they’re taking to Chicago. After making an emergency landing because of a ferocious snowstorm, the two end up stranded in Wichita (with no available flights coming or going in the foreseeable future). After a few mild protests, Neal eventually gives in and agrees with Del’s claim that they should team up and try to work their way toward the Windy City. What ensues is absolute hilarity.
Besides being my favorite film set during the Thanksgiving season, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is also one of my favorite comedies. The delivery of every line from both Martin and Candy is perfect. There’s not a single misstep. They fully embody their characters, Neal being the reserved, quite businessman and Del hurling himself—in all his obnoxious glory—from one travel-related obstacle to another.
As much as Neal hates to admit it, the experiences he has with Del as they travel across the midwest teach him a lot about himself and how he perceives the rest of the world. In fact, the sentimental ending, which would otherwise feel completely awkward and out of place, perfectly highlights the more serious moments that punctuate the plot. Even though Del is a total screwup who has no doubt put himself in the position he’s in—that of a traveling shower curtain ring salesman—he’s dealing with a lot of emotional baggage that he can’t be faulted for. He’s the perfect foil to Neal, who has everything a man could ever want: a loving family, a beautiful home, and a secure future.
The “foil relationship” of Del and Neal is what really sets the movie up for some classic comedy moments (and I have no doubt that this was directly inspired by the “Laurel and Hardy formula” found in other successful comic pairings, such as R2-D2 and C-3PO from the Star Wars series). The plot, though well constructed, is really nothing more than an elaborate setup for a series of unforgettable “freak out” moments by Neal and a few “Oops” scenarios for which Del is the cause.
There are two scenes (among a myriad of others) from Automobiles that are some of the funniest of either actors’ career: namely, the “bed,” “rental agreement,” and “wrong way” scenes (be warned, though, that the “rental agreement” scene contains explicit language). Rather than trying to explain exactly what goes down in each of these, I’ve attached the actual clips at the bottom of this page. They really are moments of comic genius, and, as such, trying to describe them would only lessen their impact for those who haven’t seen them. Also, there are many details that a lot of people overlook (such as Del reading a book titled The Canadian Mounted), and these add even more humor to a movie that could already be regarded as flawless based on the merit of its major comedic scenes alone.
For whatever reason, I often find that Planes, Trains and Automobiles flies under many people’s radars. I’m not sure if it was lost in the glare of another great holiday comedy (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), or if it just contains a little too much foul language for people to embrace it as the classic it is. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure: it deserves a place in your library. So this year, I encourage you start a new tradition by slipping your hand between two pillows.
out of 5
The “Rental Agreement” Scene:
The “Bed” Scene:
The “Wrong Way” Scene: