Thursday, November 25, 2010

Movies and Memory #2: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

First up, let me wish all my fellow Americans a very happy and healthy American Thanksgiving. Having lived in Canada for so long now it still feels weird saying "American" before Thanksgiving in November, but it is all the same thing. Canadian Thanksgiving in October varies so slightly that it is really just colder in the states when people sit down for a fine turkey dinner. And football. Don't forget about the football. And MST3K marathons when Comedy Central was still in its infancy. Oh, and that whole "family" thing.

Having lost both parents and having not had any remotely supportive extended family I never really had a traditional Thanksgiving. Well, there were fancy dinners with my parents and a drifter named Earl (no, I am not making that up. He was there for pretty much all of the seventeen Thanksgivings we ever had), but those were always marred by my mother getting too drunk to function and my father flipping out over the littlest things and pretty much ruining the entire night.

That's not to say that I haven't had some good Thanksgivings. Some of them less traditional than others. Like two years ago when I went out to a diner with some co-workers who had to stay behind for the holiday. Or the years when I spent holidays with close friends or the families of a significant other. Most years since then, however, I have worked. This American Thanksgiving is yet another one that will pass me by without notice. Much like Canadian Thanksgiving consisted of me sitting on my ass for most of the day and going to the movies to watch Gone With the Wind and the Lightbox.

There is only one real movie that ever deals with Thanksgiving in any sort of meaningful way, and it just so happens to be one of my favourite films of all time. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is my favourite John Hughes film. For the longest time it was Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but now that I have matured I appreciate Hughes' adult side a lot more than I did growing up. Plus, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the rare movie that can give me hope when I am at my most hopeless.

The plot is as simple as and Hope-Crosby road film. A workaholic ad executive (Steve Martin) wants nothing more than to get home to see his family for Thanksgiving. Thorough a convoluted series of weather delays and unforeseen mishaps (many of which would be compounded by today's stringent travel guidelines), he is forced to tag along with a shower curtain ring salesman (John Candy) who finds an endless amount of ways to annoy him.

The interplay between the two stars is pure comedic gold and Candy is a talent that left this world far too early. Martin plays the stuck up, straight laced business man so well that you hate to identify with him at times. Candy plays the seemingly ungrateful lout to the hilt and at times makes you want to strangle him yourself.

Also, it is fun to watch Steve Martin lose his shit. This scene is actually the only reason this film is rated R.

But there comes a point in the film, and if you haven't seen it I won't spoil it for you, when you realize why Candy's character is the way he is. It is at that point where everything comes together for me. Steve Martin is playing a character that I can easily identify with, yet would hate to become in real life. John Candy is playing someone well meaning, yet kind of annoying, which is the kind of guy I can be at times. Now more than ever if you know the plot twist at the end of the film.

This is one of the greatest interactions between two actors in history. Watch Martin just lay into John Candy and how Candy's reaction very slowly grows sadder and sadder with every barb thrown at him. Candy follows up with one of the best speeches in film history. Often imitated, never duplicated.

By the conclusion, set to the strains of "Everytime You Go Away," I wish I could have a life like Steve Martin has in the film and a heart the size of John Candy's. Those are the kind of sentimental moments that are lacking in my life. They are also the kind of moments that I know a lot of people take for granted because they experience them all the time. This Thanksgiving and holiday season I urge you to reach out to someone less fortunate and remind yourself how good giving can truly feel. Now that I am done preaching, it is time to watch this one again.

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