Growing up, my two favorite comedians were Steve Martin and John Candy. My favorite filmmaker was John Hughes. And yet I was never allowed to see the collaboration of my three heroes -- Planes, Trains and Automobiles, because it was Rated "R" and my parents are mean. When I finally broke my father down and was permitted to watch it, I treasured every moment. And I still do. Maybe it's the years of anticipation that made the film so special to me, but it easily ranks among my very favorite comedies of all time.
John Hughes was in the midst of an amazing hot streak in 1987. He had written the screenplays for hits like Mr. Mom, National Lampoon's Vacation, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful. His first four films as a writer/director had been Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, four of the most important films of my youth (and a lot of peoples' youths). Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a bit of a departure for Hughes -- an "adult" comedy, with nary a teenager in sight. Thankfully, Hughes knew the complicated world of adult relationships and feelings just as well as he did that of teens.
Martin plays Neal Page, an uptight advertising man who is trying to get from New York to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. John Candy plays Del Griffith, a slobby shower curtain ring salesman who is headed the same direction as Neal. For better or worse, they wind up taking the trip together. Tale as old as time. But beautiful writing, pitch-perfect performances, and a surprisingly powerful undercurrent of emotion make Planes, Trains and Automobiles the buddy comedy by which all others must be judged.