“Planes, Trains and Automobiles”: A Thanksgiving classic


Courtesy of 7th Street Theatre Hoquiam, WA/ Flickr

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was released in 1987, and to this day it still holds up as a great Thanksgiving themed road trip comedy. 

Jacob Beals

Recently, I saw a copy of the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” for sale online, but there was something that caught my attention about this particular copy. The DVD’s cover had a lot of red and green on it, and the title of the movie was styled with font that screamed Christmas.  

This caught my attention right away because as much as I love Christmas and films about it, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” honors a different holiday, Thanksgiving.

Not only is it a Thanksgiving movie, which is a rarity, it’s a fantastic film on it’s own merits. Some even believe it is the quintessential Thanksgiving film.

The movie turns 30 on Nov. 25 and countless articles, videos, social media posts and even memes about it can be found online. 

I have to say, I agree with the internet on this one. So, here is why I love “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and why I think it is a movie everyone should watch this time of year.  

One of the main themes of this movie is made clear at the start, and that is the frustration of traveling during the Holidays.

Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a hard working, but sometimes stubborn businessman who is trying to get home to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. Right at the beginning of the film he gets in a race with Kevin Bacon for taxi. You didn’t read that wrong, it really was Kevin Bacon. He makes a cameo and is on screen for about a minute, and that is it.

Soon after, Page looses out to getting the cab, he comes across John Candy’s character of Del Griffith, a kind-hearted, but sometimes annoying shower curtain ring salesman. 

From this point on, they are stuck together. Even when you think the two may have seen the last of one another, fate reunites the duo.

They fight, they make up and the two get into all sorts of trouble and debt while traveling in, quite literally, planes, trains and automobiles.

I believe this movie is the ultimate road trip comedy. So many other films released after this one followed a similar buddy traveling narrative. Including “Dumb and Dumber,” “Tommy Boy,” and even more recently with, “Identity Thief.” and “Due Date.”

With this film, I actually feel the miles being put on the characters while they are going home to Chicago. When something puts dents in their plans, it is frustrating. Their luck runs out a lot in this movie, but it still works and feels genuinely funny throughout. 

Candy and Martin are both so good in this film too. They are complete opposites, so when they fight, it is hilarious. The antics Griffith gets the two characters into are great, and Candy never fails to bring his wonderful charm. 

By the way, every problem the two face while on the road is memorable. Before today, I had not watched this movie in a few years and I found myself looking forward to every situation Page and Griffith face. Comedies with moments like this are the ones that stick with people. 

John Hughes was the mastermind behind this project and he was an amazing director for many reasons. But I love him because he knows how to make heartfelt scenes feel truly heartwarming. It works perfectly in this film, because when Griffith and Page do not get along, you can feel yourself longing for them to make up and move on, and when they do it is satisfying and sweet.

But, back to the point, why is this movie such a good Thanksgiving film? Does it do the holiday justice?

I think it absolutely does. Throughout most of the film, Page has a tough time getting along with Griffith. By the end though, we see Page really open up his heart.

Page may have been late to his family’s feast, but he gains a friend out of it. One could argue he even becomes a better person by the end of the movie.

I think this film does a good job of showing that it is okay to open up our lives to other people. That includes the ones we love and those we don’t always get along with.

Griffith and Page have to rely on each other to get home. In life, we have to rely on the others around us to help us get through it. I think that is an important thing to remember on Thanksgiving, and the rest of the year too.

This is a great message that captures the holiday, and it is also probably why this movie still resonates with so many people 30 years after its release.