Everyone loves Thanksgiving
12 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie having heard it mentioned in a fascinating book called Metal Cowboy, which is essentially a sort of journal that this guy named Joe Kurmaskie wrote about his adventures as a touring cyclist. I've gotten very interested in the subject lately, as my increasingly long bicycle adventures have led to an interest in seeing the country from the saddle of a bicycle, and Kurmaskie references Planes, Trains and Automobiles to emphasize a point he makes about the freaky things that can happen to you while traveling, particularly by bus.

Steve Martin and John Candy play well off of each other, and it's interesting to note how many weak gimmicks are in the movie and yet how well it pulls it off. You have the traditional odd couple, they run into each other constantly among millions of people, for the sake of the plot, of course, and are such polar opposites that it's impossible not to see the inspiration that the movie took from the classic Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau film, The Odd Couple. But just when you begin to think that the movie is following an easily predicted formula, you get something thrown in that really catches you off guard, like the scene where Neal (Steve Martin) finally jumps out of bed, fed up with Del's (John Candy) inability to lie still and sleep, and yells at him extensively about every single little thing that he hates about him.

It's strange that this can be such a hilarious scene for Martin, similar to Chevy Chase's temper tantrum over his Christmas bonus in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and yet we get cutaways to Del's face that are truly moving. He listens silently to Neal's endless stream of harsh criticisms, and he just watches, his face registering his inability to argue with any of it, and leaving the audience to wonder why we're laughing so hard at this guy who is obviously being hurt. And it's not even that the movie makes you look back at yourself with scenes like this, but that the characters are made so effectively three-dimensional.

(spoilers) Del is an overly outgoing character who is sociable to a fault. He just wants to make conversation and make friends but ends up annoying instead. Kind of like that line in The Cable Guy, 'I just wanted to be your friend, Steven, but I screwed it up.' Carrey had won the audience's heart with that one line, but sadly, the remainder of the movie allowed the character to rescind any sympathy. This guy doesn't need a friend, he needs a criminal psychiatrist. Del, on the other hand, badly needs a friend, as we find out later in the movie.

As a whole, the movie is about the strenuous things that happen during the holidays. Rather than focus on the difficulties in dealing with the extended family, as was the case in Christmas Vacation, this one focuses on traveling hazards. Three years later writer and Director John Hughes wrote Home Alone, in which John Candy reappears in a similar situation and plays almost exactly the same character. Here, Neal's inability to get on a single plane flight leads to a two-day nightmare involving planes, trains, automobiles and Del Griffith.

As is to be expected, this odd couple grows on each other, as they always do, but the movie manages to escape being just another odd couple movie for a variety of reasons. First, there is not resentment and dislike coming from both sides, only an irrational one coming from Neal's side. He has already judged this guy long before he knew him, and it is only Del that is willing to make conversation and simply get along, despite their differences and the difficulty of their situation. I especially loved that the movie did not cop out at the end, which it could very easily have done.

It takes two people who could hardly have been more different, puts them together for a matter of days in an extremely stressful situation, and then brings them together at the end without compromising the validity of their characters. It is certainly a bittersweet ending, but one that leaves you with a smile.
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