TBT: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

new tbt logo

If you’ve been following along with this segment, you might be aware I’ve spent the last several installments picking titles at random — and in a slight panic, with several of them being decided upon (or even watched) at the very last possible second — so it’ll be nice to reintroduce some semblance of consistency here again, in the form of Holiday Cheer movies. Granted, the next several posts should be fairly predictable. Let’s just say that I’ve graduated from scrambling for random film titles to scrambling to find an appropriate monthly theme. 😉 With all that said, I know this entry today revolves around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas but you know what, I’m prepared to take the flak. You want to hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. 

Today’s food for thought: Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Planes Trains and Automobiles movie poster

Being victimized by public transportation services since: November 25, 1987

[Netflix]

I can’t believe I’ve only now sat down to watch for the first time Steve Martin interact with the comedic genius that was (is?) John Candy. Now the real question: is that something I should have admitted?

I suppose it doesn’t matter as I can say with Del Griffith-like confidence that John Hughes’ classic fits snugly into the brand of comedy I cherish more than any other. That’s not to say, however, that Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the kind of story you can’t find reproduced elsewhere. It’s a tried-and-true road trip adventure featuring two distinct personalities who, despite all odds, wind up growing on one another having endured several days’ worth of mishaps that border on the (amusingly) catastrophic. Replete with sight gags and punchlines that, by comparison to today’s standards, feel sophisticated and novel, Planes is of course capped off with a happy and wholly satisfying ending that epitomizes the feel-good spirit of the holiday season.

The film explores the dichotomy of the psychological effects the hectic holiday season has on people. Ignoring the isolated incidents that seem to occur on Black Friday, the day where everyone seems to take pleasure in being their worst selves, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas have potential to be some of the most stressful all year. It’s that reality that Hughes taps into using Martin, who plays an uptight and rather uncharitable marketing executive named Neal Page, and his polar opposite in Candy’s happy-go-lucky, perpetually cheerful shower curtain ring salesman Del. While it might be more comforting — beneficial, even — to assign personalities and dispositions to a spectrum ranging from very negative to positive, there’s no denying the stereotype is alive and well during the holiday shopping season.

In Planes, Neal faces one setback after another in his attempts to get back to his family for Thanksgiving dinner, starting with missing a taxi to the airport that almost causes him to miss his flight home to Chicago from New York. This is where he first bumps into Del, who would later laugh about how amusing it was that Neal tried to steal *his* cab. Wouldn’t you know it, the two end up sitting next to each other on the flight, one that ultimately ends up having to land in Wichita due to a terrible snowstorm in Chicago. Del is quick to remind Neal once on the ground that given the circumstances it will be next-to-impossible to book a hotel room anywhere, and the two end up taking a room at some seedy motel miles away, which sets up the iconic “I don’t judge you, so why do you judge me” speech.

Things only get worse from there, as Neal is faced with the prospect of continuing to travel with Del as he seems to be the only way he’s going to get out of this crummy town. They board a train that later breaks down and end up having to cram into a city bus that threatens to fall apart at any moment. Much to our amusement the quality of transit vehicles only adds to Neal’s mounting frustrations. It all culminates in a literally explosive car ride that sees the pair brought to their knees at yet another cheap-o hotel, where the question finally must be asked: “is it me, or is it just everyone else around me that’s crazy?”

Existential rumination aside, Hughes’ judgment of character development couldn’t have been more satisfying. There are so many instances throughout the course of this escapade where we think there’s no way Del can screw things up any more than they already are; there’s no way Neal can possibly be any more unpleasant than he was trying to rent a car. And yet developments belie expectations, but only to a point. There’s a wonderful scene at another rundown motel in which the pair are confronted by their own consciences. It’s not like the humbling process isn’t unexpected. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Hughes’ filmography, it should come as no surprise the slide into relative despair can’t be sustained; this is a road trip comedy after all. Yet it’s the aesthetics of the scene that really impact. There’s something about the faux-wooden interior of this particular room that resonates warmly.

In the end, Planes‘ episodic nature epitomizes the oft-exaggerated emotions and experiences of the holiday season. Whether it’s finding the ideal gift for a loved one, putting together a master shopping list for the big dinner or simply attempting to shoulder the responsibilities of throwing a seasonal party, this time of year presents stress in many forms. Hughes is keenly aware of that reality, and he has a field day with it thanks to the interplay between these comedic greats.

Planes Trains Automobiles Martin Candy Fire

Recommendation: Planes, Trains and Automobiles satisfies on many levels with its diverse and highly effective collection of comedic situations and running jokes. It’s another one of those entries that makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of quality comedy. Thanks to great turns from Steve Martin and John Candy this is a film that fans can re-watch over and again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Perspectives are a funny thing. John Candy and Steve Martin have both named this film as their favorite films of their own. Ask other crew members who worked on the film and they’ll describe the shoot as “hellish,” as they were obligated to drive back and forth between locations on the East Coast and the Midwest since each time they arrived at one place the snow they were hoping to find melted too quickly. According to some crew members, John Hughes was in a terrible mood for much of the process as he was enduring difficult times in his personal life.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com; http://www.haphazard-stuff.blogspot.com 

TBT: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

As we start setting our sights on the fall season, kids also have to start setting their sights on their homework and class schedules. I don’t. (Ha!) But that just means I’m of a certain age. So, in my ‘old age’ that’s not really old age but is fun to say old age because that’s just the excuse going around right now, I want to do some reflecting back on movies about school or that are about the education process. Some people might find this topic a little lame, and to those folks I say: go stick on a dunce cap and sit in the corner. 😉 My overly-confident-sounding tone is brought to you by

Today’s food for thought: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (wink) 

Ferris Buellers Day Off

Rudely interrupting parades in a completely unconvincing fashion since: June 11, 1986

[Netflix]

Some movies might just be better left in the past. After all, memories can last a lifetime. Sadly, there’s a caveat to that, as over time memories tend to start romanticizing rather than simply recalling events and experiences. Just because they may last forever doesn’t mean they necessarily remain accurate. While I wouldn’t say my memory has failed me when it comes to John Hughes’ too-cool-for-school comedy, I kind of regret going back to this movie. What was so wrong with keeping my memory of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the way it was?

I don’t remember this kid being such a jerk and so entitled. I don’t remember the writing being so atrocious. Of course, I recall pretty much all the mischief he and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) got into over the course of a single day but Bueller’s allergy to altruistic behavior seems to be something that escaped Younger Me. Ah, Younger Me. Damn you for having things so easy. That me could just sit there and take a movie in and enjoy it. That me could appreciate a movie being just about playing hooky and nothing else. The plot’s still just as digestible and unobtrusive, built out of simple pleasures, like getting to flip the middle finger to those in authority. Now, simplicity actually draws attention to other things.

After so much time you start to realize how many scenes have been parodied past the point of recognition. You are more familiar with the parodies than the original scene(s), although this is by no means the fault of Hughes or his cast. Over time the tone of said parody has also changed. What were once reverential spoofs have become innumerable opportunities to cash in on trendiness. When Cameron’s scream echoed throughout all of Chicago, having realized how many miles they had just put on his father’s Ferrari by driving it around all day, I had to remind myself that what I was watching was the actual scene; this wasn’t a parody.

In some ways Ferris Bueller is a parody of life at the teenage level. Wanting to skip a day of school remains a timeless, fairly universal experience — I’m pretty sure I faked being sick once or twice — and the character continues to represent that part of us that wishes we had more control over the things we don’t want to deal with. In the annals of cinema history he’s a hero for his principled stand. And for pulling one over mom and dad — though this is much less impressive when he’s raised by parents only slightly more capable than Bam Margera’s. This time Hughes is nauseatingly optimistic, far more concentrated on getting as far away from the doldrums of high school where poor Ferris heretofore has had to suffer years of being generally well-liked. Woe as him.

Unlike much of Hughes’ work, Ferris Bueller is far more screwball comedy than coming-of-age. In fact it’s actually more akin to fantasy than comedy. Everything comes together so perfectly (for Ferris, not so much for poor Cameron or Jeffrey Jones’ Principal Rooney) and despite developments that threaten to derail the perfect day — losing the Ferrari temporarily to someone posing as a valet driver who takes it for a joy ride; almost getting caught on TV while at a baseball game; an extremely determined Principal Rooney hot on Ferris’ heels — there’s never any doubt that things will work out. There is very little conflict and even less consequence: we never get to hear the conversation Cameron has with his dad; never see what becomes of Ferris’ classmates rallying behind him, hoping that he makes a speedy recovery from ‘being sick;’ never get to find out why these parents are just so . . . bad at parenting.

Gee golly willickers, I find myself sharing Jeanie’s point of view now more than Ferris’. (And also my dear friend Zoe’s. Feel alone no longer, Zoe, for I too share some of your pain in watching this movie. 😉 ) Like his sister I’ve always been amazed at the things Ferris manages to get away with without being remotely apologetic. I’m not sure how I feel about comparing myself to this person because, as I’ve found, I regard Jeanie as a bit of a bitch. Of course, it’s nothing that a quick make-out session with a visibly stoned Charlie Sheen at the police station can’t cure. Maybe I, too, should have made out with him, thus allowing myself to enjoy some time off from movie watching with an embittered, overly judgmental mindset. Maybe then I would be able to still look at this creation as art instead of artifice.

Recommendation: I have confirmed this is one of those movies I enjoyed far more as a wee lad, and not so much as a jaded adult. Kind of sad, right? It’s not that I find Ferris a rather unlikable fella (I think many can agree on that point), but I remembered this movie being just a little bit more believable. John Hughes constructs such a ridiculous series of events, suggesting if you plan to skip out on school (or work) you better have other, far more elaborate plans to enact lest you completely waste that day. A movie that’s far easier (and fun) to buy into as a kid than an adult.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 103 mins.

TBTrivia: After working together on Weird Science (1985), John Hughes offered Bill Paxton the role of the garage attendant. Paxton turned it down because he felt the role was too small. He admits that he regrets turning it down because Hughes never offered him a role again. 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.allposters.com; http://www.imdb.com