Spoilers, as per usual…
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is about as straightforward a buddy comedy as you can get. Steve Martin plays an uptight, cynical businessman who is trying to get home to his family in Chicago for Thanksgiving. However, his trip home from work in New York is disastrous, all snowballing on from him missing a taxi at the start of the film. He bumps into a bumbling, talkative and overbearingly optimistic man played by John Candy, who is all too happy for company, several times en route, and ends up attached at the hip to him along his various transgressions despite, in vain, trying to lose him. Oh, and everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and more often than not, hilariously.
It’s a marvellously simple concept, with two very basic character tropes (pessimist and optimist), ably played out by Martin and Candy. One or two don’t hit, but that’s barely the point, as the chemistry between these two men is electric. Not sexually electric, though. Settle your horses. As the audience we’re tied to Martin’s story as he finds himself later and later for his family holiday as things go from bad to worse to unbelievable, but it’s incredibly hard not to find yourself drawn to Candy’s undying sunniness, despite the fact that the protagonist, for the most part, hates him. Martin’s laughs come from his bubbling frustration, his bitter repartee and, in a sick sort of way, his constant failure. Candy is constantly funny in the way he deals with pretty much everything – with a smile on his face and without any shadowy intentions. Scenes where Candy is torn into by Martin’s unflinching character analysis (only to be rebuffed by Candy essentially telling him ‘what you see is what you get’) and where a car rental assistant gets hit by his profanity-riddled request for service (someone on the internet counted 18 f**ks, not me, honest) are the most memorable.
And that’s mainly what this film is. Memorable. This is a shaggy dog story with a series of events so far-fetched and disgustingly vivid, and with characters so gargantuan (no pun intended with Candy) that you’d have a hard time retelling it yourself. And I genuinely enjoyed it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a movie. I don’t normally do comedy movies, truth be told, but the construction, the timing and the charm of Planes’ script is impossible to lament. The ridiculousness of the scenarios that start piling up may grate for some, and in fairness, the constant shifts in direction would annoy anyone looking for an easy ride (again, no puns). But that’s the point. It’s not an easy ride. This is what makes the moments of happiness and relief so rewarding, and the climax so satisfying. There’s one final twist in the last ten minutes of the film that I’m absolutely not spoiling, but it changes how you view the film from the minute you see Candy’s character getting into the cab. And it’s bloody heartbreaking. This is coming from someone who would shoot schmaltz in the face if it had one (and if I weren’t such a pacifist). It seals the film. Absolutely. And by god, it will make you miss John Candy (RIP) more than you’d ever imagine.
10/10. No films are perfect. But some films have very, very few faults. When I think of what could be construed as a blip in Planes, it looks right back at me as an intentional part of the story. The awkwardness, the increasingly insane series of events – it’s all necessary. The chemistry is spot on. The casting is inspired. The ending is amazing. Even the dated soundtrack is addictive. If you really, really don’t like Martin or Candy, you may not fare so well. But as I’ve said previously – I will know when to award a ten. This. Is. A ten. And you may read that last bit like Gerard Butler in 300. I did.