PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES

1987; written and directed by John Hughes; 92 mins

With 80s nostalgia becoming tedious to the point of coma, I’d made a decision not to watch any John Hughes movies because of every sodding 30+ cultural midget who bangs on about how earth-shattering The Breakfast Club is. I’m sure it’s great but – alerting all 90s and Noughties nerds – let’s try not be boring as they are!

However! Since I am also an unbearable snob, I did pick this one up because it was on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list (I’m on and off with Roger Ebert but you can’t help but keep coming back to him). How nice then to be able to say that I loved it! One of those film experiences that creeps up on you. Starts off impressive and just goes uphill from there.

Neal Page is a marketing exec, desperate to get out of the office and onto a flight home from NY to Chicago. His taxi gets stolen by a man who later turns up opposite him at the departure lounge, one Del Griffith, a travelling shower-curtain-ring salesman. Del is, in the way of these things, the Yin to Neal’s Yang. He’s chatty, extroverted, clumsy and carefree; a man mountain made out of habit molehills. With a snowstorm attacking Chicago, their plane is diverted to Wichita and from there, they must make their way back home. Through various cruel twists of fate, the uptight and disagreeable Neal ends up effectively stuck with Del as he gets more and more desperate and further and further away from his family.

80s Hollywood may have bloated itself out of existence but there are gems in there and this stands out, not just as a very funny film but as a beautifully made, heartwarming piece of Tinsel Town filmmaking, reminiscent of the classic movies of the 40s and 50s. Watch the opening five minutes and you see purely perfect cinematic storytelling as we meet Steve Martin, find out who he is, where he’s going, how he’s hoping to get there and who’s gonna get in his way, with absolutely no fat on it whatsoever.

The best thing is, the film continues in this vein for the entirety of it’s run time. What marks it out as different though is that, at first, you expect for Steve Martin’s breakdown to be a slow-burn thing but in actual fact, he has his first freakout quite early on when listening to Del’s phlegmatic preparations for bed. What Hughes then does is to have Neal learn his lesson… a bit. Then he piles indignity upon indignity, seeing how much this yuppie can take before he unleashes a blitzkrieg of fucks at a plastic-smiling, rental car assistant, bringing to mind Sean Lock’s great routine on swearing.*

In the end, this is one of those films that reminds me to stop being a dick. Great movies can be found anywhere and sometimes they’re hidden in the depths of a cultural quagmire that you’ve tried to avoid. My journey was much like Neal’s in that respect.

*It more specifically resembles the scene from Sean Lock’s 15 Storeys High, in which Vince attempts to go on holiday. I couldn’t find the clip but here’s the whole episode.

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