I read an article yesterday on how the John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the best movie ever made about Thanksgiving:
I bet you’ve seen it multiple times, like I have. There’s so much to like about this buddies-on-the-road story about two guys trying desperately to get one of them home in time for Thanksgiving. It’s hilarious, and never gets old. The script is terrific, and both leads are at the top of their games, as their characters ride an emotional roller coaster, by turns ecstatic, bitter, morose, frustrated to the point of apoplexy, and even, at times, scared out of their wits (see the scene when they’re driving the wrong way, according to the guy shouting at them from across the median).
Steve Martin is perfect, but there’s something especially endearing about John Candy’s performance as Del Griffith, an itinerant salesman who supplies the little plastic rings that keep shower curtains up. His portrayal goes well beyond farce and pratfalls into territory supposed to be the preserve of “serious” actors; Del can make you want to scream, but he also makes you want to cry. There are dozens of little moments when your heart goes out to him: his crestfallen humiliation when Martin’s character flays him with the famous “Chatty Cathy” rant, his loneliness at the station as he waits for a train to nowhere, all by himself, the way he smiles through his tears and clutches his hat when his travel buddy finally makes it into the warm embrace of his loving family, it all just breaks your heart. Del is a sorrowful wreck willing himself to see the bright side, taking joy in little things, and forging ahead in a spirit of almost tenacious optimism. He’s so determinedly upbeat that you want to punch his silly smiling face, until you catch a glimpse of the wounded soul behind the facade. Candy makes you feel glad that you’re not Del, and a little bit ashamed of that feeling.
The scene above, with Del trying to persuade a cop that his burned-out car with the melted dashboard is still good to go, has always been a favourite. There’s no bullshit to Del, no guile at all; when asked if he has any functioning gauges of any sort, he cheerfully answers “No, not a one”. He figures that if you just tell the truth and explain your predicament, you’ll get by on the innate decency of others.
If that doesn’t make you cry, what will?