When I first watched it, I did think it was a good flick, but it was over repeated viewings when I began to really, really enjoy and appreciate it. In fact, the second time I watched it, which was actually Thanksgiving of 2012, it came to my rescue, because that Thanksgiving was, by far, the most miserable holiday I think I and my family had ever experienced, especially my mom. Without getting into too much detail, I'll just say that we were caught up in an awful crisis that slowly but surely led to a big loss by the following summer. In any case, the night before Thanksgiving was especially hard and trying and, after dinner the next day, I desperately needed cheering up and, remembering that this is based around the holiday, I popped it in and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I hadn't laughed in a long time then and it was so good to just forget about what was going on for 92 minutes. Ever since then, it's been an annual tradition of mine and it's one of those movies that's gotten better each and every time I've watched it. Not only is it just a complete ball as well as heartwarming but it's also amazing how effortlessly it swings back and forth between being very funny, through a number of different comedy styles, no less, and legitimately poignant and touching. It never feels jarring when doing so and it also knows when to pull back, never getting so saccharine that it becomes sappy or so comedic that it's a full-on farce. Roger Ebert said it best when he referred to it as, "A screwball comedy with heart," and I'll add to that by saying that it's got a big one, too.
It's two days before Thanksgiving and marketing executive Neal Page plans to fly home to Chicago from New York... unfortunately, an indecisive employer forces him to have to rush to the airport and a series of annoying incidents cause him even further delay. While waiting on his flight, which itself has been delayed, Neal meets Del Griffith, a very friendly and happy but unintentionally irritating shower curtain ring salesman and who he recognizes as someone who obliviously took a taxi cab out from under him. After everything he's been through, Neal is not in the best of moods and it goes from bad to worse when he's bumped from 1st Class to Coach and has to sit next to the constantly talking Del for the entire flight. And then, the airport in Chicago is shut down due to bad weather and the flight is diverted to Wichita, Kansas. When the outgoing flight there is cancelled and he learns that all of the hotel rooms in the area filled up, Neal has no choice but to accompany Del to a cheap motel, where they're forced to share both a room and a bed. Del's irritating and sometimes disgusting habits ultimately get to Neal and he angrily lashes out at him for being so annoying, but Del, who is very hurt by this, simply responds by telling Neal that he sees him as a cold-hearted cynic and that he likes the type of person he is, as does his wife and his customers. The next day, after they discover that they were robbed of their money in the night, the two of them try everything they can to reach Chicago, with Del's charm and easy-going attitude helping him get along just fine, while Neal seems to be cursed with crushing bad luck, and numerous obstacles get in the way, such as a train breaking down, Neal getting sent to a spot to rent a car, only to find that said car isn't there, and the two of them nearly getting killed on the highway before the car Del rented becomes engulfed in flames, with Neal's wallet and credit cards in the glove compartment. Through it all, though, Neal slowly grows as a person and learns to appreciate what he has, especially when he begins to suspect that Del may actually be hiding a lot of heartbreak and sadness behind his jovial attitude.
There are many things to like about Planes, Trains and Automobiles but its best assets, above everything else, are Steve Martin and John Candy in two of their best roles. Not only do they have great chemistry and comedic timing with each other but each of them plays his respective character pitch perfectly and they're both relatable in their own ways. I can really sympathize with the plight of Martin's character, Neal Page. All he wants is to go home and spend Thanksgiving with his family but it seems like the whole universe is conspiring against him: he's unable to get a taxi during the holiday rush in the middle of Manhattan, ends up paying someone else for their cab for no reason because Del Griffith inadvertently takes it out from under him, his flight is delayed, he has to sit next to a well-meaning but rather obnoxious guy who won't be quiet on the plane, he gets diverted to Wichita, Arkansas, has to depend on said guy for a place to stay for the night when his outgoing flight is cancelled and everything else is filled up, is forced to share a room with him, and so on. Once he's had his problems in the motel shower, like the water cutting off when he's soaped up his face and only had a tiny washrag to dry himself, and had to deal with Del's irritating and, in some cases, rather gross habits, like loudly clearing his sinuses and messing up the bathroom, Neal's frustration is perfectly understandable and it's no wonder that he explodes the way he does. The stuff he says does get rather cruel and personal as he goes on but you get that it's the sound of a guy who's reached the end of his tolerance and it's not that much of a stretch to see yourself losing it like that. And things only get progressively worse the next day, as everything imaginable happens: Neal's money gets stolen, he has to ride in the back of a pickup truck in the freezing cold to get to a train station (he made the mistake of leaving his gloves behind in the office in New York), the train breaks down and he and Del have to walk through a field to reach Jefferson City, where they take a bus to St. Louis, he attempts to rent a car, only to be dropped off at a lot where there's no car for him to get into, doesn't help his case by going on a profanity-filled tirade to the rental agent (I once came dangerously close to doing that to a hotel manager) and then insulting a taxi dispatcher, and after he's picked up by Del in his own rental car, they very nearly crash and Del ends up setting the car on fire. While he's soon able to laugh about it, it's amazing that Neal didn't snap and go on a killing spree after everything he goes through.
His understandable frustration and desperation aside, it would be easy to write Neal off as being very uptight and, as Del describes him, "A cold-hearted cynic" who hurts people's feelings, but it's made clear early on that underneath it all, Neal is a decent guy. After he's lashed out at Del in the motel room and he gives him his heartfelt rebuttal, you can see that Neal, now that he's had a chance to cool off, realizes he went too far in some of the things he said to Del, knowing that the ways Del describes him aren't exactly wrong, and feels genuinely guilty about it. Furthermore, Neal continually tries to get in touch with his wife to keep her abreast of what's going on but after the first few times, he loses touch with her, and when he attempts to call her when he and Del end up in St. Louis, he gets no answer and realizes that they're all at his young daughter's Thanksgiving pageant, which is where he should be. His being separated from them like this makes him understand that he's been spending way too much time away from home lately and that he should appreciate what he has. By the time it's all said and done, he has come to feel that way, having told Del that he's now a little wiser, especially when he learns of his own tragic situation. That leads us into his relationship with Del, which evolves over the course of the film. At first, Del is nothing more than a very irritating pest he wishes he could just duck and, despite his feeling bad about the verbal lashing he gave him, after having to spend the night with him in the motel room, he still tries to put some distance between them, deliberately getting them separate cars on the train and, after they arrive in St. Louis, suggesting that they go their separate ways. He makes excuses for it but, in the end, it's obvious he finds Del to be rather smothering and his attempts to help often cause Neal even more trouble and discomfort. But, despite his best efforts, fate seems determined to keep them together, and even after Del about gets them killed by driving the wrong way on the highway and accidentally sets the car on fire, burning up his credit cards, Neal can't bring himself to force Del to sleep outside in the freezing cold when he can't afford a motel room and they spend another night together. It's here where you can Neal coming around to genuinely like Del, as they laugh about the unbelievable stuff they've been through and they bond over the love that they have for their wives. Once Del manages to get Neal home to Chicago, the two of them embrace before they part ways and, as he rides the train, Neal thinks about going home to his family and all of the memorable things that have happened to him over the past two days. But then, he remembers something odd that Del said and it prompts him to get off the train and head back to the station, where he finds Del sitting by himself, learning that he has no home and that his wife has been dead for eight years. This revelation, coupled with the way Del presents himself to other people, is what makes Neal truly appreciate what a lucky guy he is, as Del tells him, and he has him come home with him for Thanksgiving, in a truly touching final scene.
I can relate with John Candy's portrayal of Del Griffith just as much as I can Neal because, truth be told, I'm something of a combination of aspects of both of them. I'm rather introverted like Neal and not much of a conversationalist, at least when it comes to people I don't know, but once I do know you and am comfortable with you, I can very easily talk you to death and irritate you without realizing it. I can definitely relate with the notion of enjoying someone's company and wanting to share and converse with them but going overboard and smothering them in the process. I don't think I've ever done it to the extent that Del does (at least, I hope I haven't), but I can understand it. That said, though, I wish I was as outgoing and welcoming a person as Del is. This is a guy who's always ready with a smile, who's glad to meet you and wants to get to know you, and would gladly give you the shirt off his back. But, again, his problem is that he has a tendency to go on and on about it until you're about ready to kill him, and that's just the start of his annoying habits. Among other things, he unknowingly gets in the way, like when Neal trips over his trunk when he's trying to catch a cab and when he inadvertently takes the one he's about to get; he's way too open about certain things, like how good it feels to take his shoes and socks off on the plane; his sense of humor can be rather obnoxious, like when he says, "We'd have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak," and, "If they told you wolverines would make good house pets, would you believe them?"; he's not the most hygienic person, as seen by how badly he messed up the motel bathroom and his disgusting habit of clearing out his sinus by making really irritating sounds; and he has tendency to say the thing you don't want to hear at the exact time you don't want to hear it, like when Neal tells him he's never ridden on a bus before and he says, "Your mood's probably not going to improve much," and when he waits until they're well into their bus trip to tell Neal that their tickets are only going to take them as far as St. Louis and that everything from there to Chicago is booked solid. He's certainly not a bad person at all but he does have bad habits, with other examples being his smoking and exaggerating how difficult something is so Neal will help him. It does seem like he's going to turn out to be something of a schmuck after all when he admits that he used Neal's diner's club card, which ended up in his wallet after a mix-up at the Braidwood Inn (it goes by so fast, you're likely to miss it), to pay for a rental car. But, given that he didn't actually take any of the cards that he could have when he had the chance, along with his claims that he was going to send it back with the money for the charge, which seem valid as he did put it back in Neal's wallet, it feels more like he did it out of desperation for being left stranded with almost no money.
For all his faults and clumsiness, Del is anything but a bumbling idiot. For one thing, he's a very shrewd and charming salesman. He sells shower curtain rings, which may seem like the most useless thing in the world, but he sure does do well in clearing them out, as seen when he comes up with all sorts of ways of pawning them off as earrings, including telling some young girls that wearing them makes them look around 18 or even 19, to get some cash he and Neal can use to get out of St. Louis (his charisma doesn't get him a motel room on the second night but that's another story). His business has also gotten him a number of connections, allowing him and Neal to find places to stay and a way to get to where they're going with less trouble than they could have. What's more, Del is both a very intuitive person and a real forward-thinker, as he's able to pick up on how Neal is having some small problems on the home-front after he calls his wife for the first time, knows when they're diverted to Wichita that their outgoing flight will be cancelled and thinks to call ahead for a motel as soon as he landed, and that it'd be better to get out by train rather than try getting another plane due to how full everything will be because of holiday travel. Finally, nothing seems to get Del down. No matter what situation he and Neal find themselves, he always remains optimistic, positive, and never really loses his temper or curses someone out, unlike Neal. For example, when they're stuck riding the really crowded bus, Del's just sitting back and eating some candy, enjoying the sights, and leads the passengers in a sing-along; after they've nearly been killed by driving in the wrong direction on the highway, he looks at the gigantic slice that's been cut into the side of his rental car and says that it's not as bad as he thought and that they can laugh about it since they're okay; and when a state trooper pulls them over when they're driving the burnt out husk of the car and asks them how fast they were going, Del just says, "Funny enough, I was just talking to my friend about that. Our speedometer has melted and as a result, it's very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going," and jokes about how everything else is destroyed but the radio still works and comes in clear, to boot.
In addition to the great comedic skills that he was revered for, John Candy also got the opportunity to show off his acting chops here, as he gives Del both a heart and a sense of sadness and pain behind the funny. As hilarious as Neal's tirade towards Del in the motel room is because of how over-the-top the dialogue and Steve Martin's delivery is, as he goes on, you can see Del shrinking up in his posture and getting sadder and sadder with every insult. Once Neal is done, Del delivers an excellent and touching speech where he admits that he's not perfect but neither is Neal: "You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right. I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you, but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me. I'm not changing. I like... I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get." He delivers it with such emotion, looking and sounding as if he's about to cry, that it not only gets across how deep Neal cut him but also that he's probably not the first to give him such a verbal lashing. But, as much as he defends himself and is further hurt by Neal's decision to off by himself when they get to St. Louis, by the time the second night has rolled around, it does hit Del just how much of an unintended annoyance and irritation he can be. As he sits in the burned out husk of the rental car in the parking lot of another motel, in the freezing cold, Del talks to himself as if his wife were there: "Well, Marie, once again, my dear, you where as right as rain. I am, without a doubt, the biggest pain in the butt that ever came down the pike. I meet someone whose company I really enjoy, and what do I do? I go overboard. I smother the poor soul. I cause him more trouble than he has a right to. God, I got a big mouth. When am I ever gonna wake up?" He then adds, "I wish you were here with me right now. But... I guess that's not gonna happen. Not now, anyway," which is a bit of foreshadowing towards the ultimate revelation about him.
Throughout the film, Del often refers to his wife, whose picture he takes with him, and how much she means to him, telling Neal in the second motel, "Love... is not a big enough word. It's not a big enough word for how I feel about my wife." But there have also been subtle hints about the sad reality of the situation, like Del's expression when Neal says, "At the very least, the absolute minimum, you'll have a woman you love to grow old with," how sad he appears to be when he gets Neal to Chicago and they have to say their goodbyes, coupled with Neal wishing him a happy Thanksgiving, and most significantly, his line, "I haven't been home in years," which makes Neal realize when he's riding the commuter train that something's not right. When he heads back to the train station and finds Del just sitting there, he makes a painful admission: Marie has been dead for eight years and he's homeless. Just think about that: this is a man who has literally lost everything, whose whole world is nothing but his big trunk (as to what's in it, I've always assumed it was a bunch of shower curtain rings along with other items, like maybe that picture of Marie), the satchel he wears over his shoulder, and the clothes on his back, and yet, he's the friendliest, most jovial guy you'd ever want to meet. No doubt, that's just his natural personality, but it's unimaginable the pain, heartbreak, and, most of all, loneliness he must be hiding behind that, which explains why he's so desperate to connect with others and goes overboard in doing so. On top of that, there's a feeling of melancholy when his humor becomes self-deprecating, and in that second motel scene, before Neal talks about his wife, Del says, "When I'm dead and buried, all I'll leave behind are some shower curtain rings that didn't fall down. Some legacy, huh?" It's such a sad thing to say anyway but it also makes Neal's tirade towards him that first night even sadder in retrospect. And even when Neal brings him to his house for Thanksgiving, Del talks about not staying long and that he'll just come in to say hi to the family, as if he doesn't think he's worthy enough. That last shot of him giving a warm but close-to-crying smile when he watches Neal and his wife embrace once they're home really gets to you, but it's nice to think that they may have allowed Del to stay with them as long as he needed to in order to get back on his feet (at least, that's what I've always imagined happened next).
While there are definitely other memorable characters to be found here, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is really about the two of them and everyone else function little more than as very small supporting players, one-scene cameos, and, in some cases, personified gags. After Neal and Del, the character who gets the most screentime is Neal's wife, Susan (Laila Robins), and she doesn't have much to do other than spend the film wondering about where her husband is, what he's gotten himself into when he does manage to call, and if he's going to make it home in time for Thanksgiving. There is that very subtle hint early on when they talk for the first time that she wishes he wouldn't spend so much time away from home but it doesn't go much deeper than just that slightest bit of subtext. It may seem like a really thankless role for Robins but it turns out to have been worth it at the very end when Neal finally makes it back home. She's so overjoyed that he did make it that she's on the brink of tears, and, after a heartfelt greeting between herself and Del, where she says hello to him in a way that you can feel also says, "Thank you for getting him home," she and Neal share the most loving embrace imaginable, letting you know that this is what kept pushing Neal forward, despite all that was thrown at him, and what he's learned to appreciate more than he has been lately. When it comes to her and Neal's children, there's Marti (Olivia Burnette), who's the typical young kid who's wise and savvy beyond her years, knowing when her father calls the first night that it's because his flight has been delayed, and she also hopes that he'll be home in time for Thanksgiving, as she says during a small pageant at her school, and Little Neal (a very young Matthew Lawrence), their cute little son who likes getting noogies, even though they do give him Indian burns. He also has a son who's basically a baby but he doesn't do much of note other than look cute.
There are a good number of interesting and, in some cases, downright wacky characters Neal and Del run into through the course of the movie. At the beginning of the movie, Neal is waiting for another executive, who is apparently named Bryant (William Windom), to make a decision on an image to use in a marketing campaign, which forces him to have to rush to make his plane, and after the ending credits, you see the guy still hasn't chosen one, as he's sitting at his desk with a Thanksgiving turkey and a plate full of food there as well; Neal has a buddy and coworker named John (Lyman Ward, who played Mr. Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off), who tries to talk him out of trying to get a taxi in downtown Manhattan at this time of day, so close to Thanksgiving, and whose last words to him are, "You'll never make the 6:00!"; a dickhead lawyer (Nicholas Wyman) who Neal pays to allow him to have his cab, forcing him to pay as much as $75 and who admits he's a jerk with lines like, "I don't have a good nature," and after Neal calls him a thief, "Close. I'm an attorney,"; a major bitch of a stewardess (Diana Szlosberg) who bumps him to Coach, claiming 1st Class is full up, but then allows another guy to sit there, telling him he can sit wherever he wants; Doobby (Larry Hankin), a Wichita cab driver who seems a little too interested in Neal, winking at him and taking the scenic route to show him the sights, even though it's the middle of the night, and the inside of whose cab could pass for a porn store; Gus Mooney (Charles Tyner), the manager of the Braidwood Inn near Wichita who's friendly with Del since he sold him some shower curtain rings; Owen (Dylan Baker), Gus' son, who drives Neal and Del to the nearest railroad station and who's a pretty disgusting country hick, constantly spitting and making snorting sounds that are either him clearing his sinuses or random attempts to sound like a pig; his wife (Lulie Newcomb), who he orders around like a servant and, according to him, is tougher than she looks because, "Her first baby came out sideways, she didn't scream or nothin',"; a young couple (Andrew J. Hentz and Karen Meisinger) who have no qualms about passionately making out on the bus to St. Louis and the male part of whom, when he catches Neal staring at them, asks, "Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer,"; a cab dispatcher (John Randolph Jones) at the rental car offices in St. Louis who Neal makes the mistake of insulting and who whacks him in the face before picking him up by the balls; a couple in a car (John Moio and Victoria Vanderkloot) who try to warn Neal and Del that they're going the wrong way on the highway; and a state trooper (Michael McKean) who pulls them over for speeding and has the burned out husk of their rental car impounded afterward.
In addition, you have a number of fairly well-known actors, most of whom had worked with John Hughes before, who pop up in small but memorable roles. The strangest of these is at the beginning when Kevin Bacon plays the guy who races against Neal to grab a cab and ultimately gets it. I had no clue Bacon was in this film at all and so, when I first saw it, I was like, "Oh, hello, Kevin Bacon. Trying to add another link to the Six Degrees chain?" It is a really odd role, as it's only in this one scene and Bacon doesn't say a word. From what I've heard, he'd just finished filming She's Having a Baby with John Hughes, was asked if he wanted a small part here, and since he liked working with Hughes, didn't turn it down (later on, during one of the moments where it cuts back to Susan Page at hom, you can hear audio from She's Having a Baby on the TV, even though that movie wasn't released until the following year). Speaking of that movie, Bill Erwin, who was the grandfather there and went on to appear very briefly in Home Alone, plays a passenger on the plane that falls asleep on Neal's shoulder. Another Hughes alumnus, Ben Stein, appears as the man at the Wichita Airport who announces that all flights have been cancelled, before giving a rather smarmy and insulting smile. Probably the most memorable one, though, is Edie McClung, who was in Ferris Bueller's Day Off as the secretary, the chipper, bubbly rental car agent who bares the brunt of Neal's angry, f-bomb-filled tirade and who, when he's done, asks to see his rental agreement. When he says he threw it away, she tells him plain and simple, "You're fucked," which is even funnier given the type of person she's portrayed as and how she admonished Neal for the profanity he was using earlier. Finally, as you'd know if you've been following my blog from near the beginning, Jurassic Park is one of my favorites of all time and was a big part of my childhood, so imagine my surprise when Martin Ferrero, who played the doomed lawyer, Donald Genarro, there, appears as the manager of the motel Neal and Page stop at after their harrowing experience on the freeway and their rental car getting burnt up.
What makes this relatable to everyone rather than just a select generation is that it perfectly captures the trials and tribulations that come with travel. I think everyone has had those types of trips, especially road-trips, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong (I went on a cross-country road-trip with my parents in July of 2016 that was two weeks or so of absolute hell). What's really sad is that a good number of the obstacles Neal Page runs into throughout the film aren't all that exaggerated: you can't catch a cab, your flight gets delayed or outright cancelled, you get stuck near an annoying person on the plane (one time, I was stuck in the row across from a guy who would not shut up; the poor guy sitting in front of him looked like he wanted to shoot himself), the person sitting next to you falls asleep on your shoulder, you have no choice but to either sleep at the airport or stay in a crummy little motel in the middle of nowhere, your money gets stolen, you have to ride on a crowded bus, and so on. Moreover, the film's story was inspired by something that really happened to John Hughes, where he was on a flight from New York to Chicago that did get diverted to Wichita and it took him a whole five days to finally get home. Now that I think about it, John Candy often appeared in movies where the situations were very relatable. Summer Rental, a personal favorite of mine, is a prime example for me because going to Florida every summer was an annual tradition of my parents and I throughout my childhood and well into my teens and a lot of the crap that happens to Candy and his family in that film is stuff we went through. Another is The Great Outdoors which, despite its cartoonish nature, I think is relatable because of the notion of somebody who drives you nuts intruding on your vacation (believe me, I had to put with that quite a few times). So, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is definitely in good company when it comes to movies you can watch and think to yourself, "I've been there."
It's also a film that makes really good use of its locations, acting as something of a travel log for the different types of places one has to go through while trip, such as the congested streets of a big city where getting a cab is next to impossible, the sheer boredom that is sitting around at an airport, train station, or bus depot, waiting to get moving, and the cramped confines of a lower-class plane flight (I've never flown 1st Class; I'm not that rich) and bus-ride. What I like the most, though, is how accurately it depicts the podunk towns you often find yourself passing through and the crappy, cheap motels you have to stay in. The Braidwood Inn near Wichita, where Neal and Del stay the first night, is a place we've all stayed at some point; that type of place which tries to make itself look nice, with the kind of fancy-looking bedspread and whatnot, but in reality, is as low-rent as they come and out in the middle of nowhere (it reminds me of a place we once stayed in that absolutely wreaked of cigarettes). The same goes for the El Rancho in Illinois, which looks a little better but not by much. You also see examples of those type of small diners in those towns, like the place where Neal and Del have breakfast after their first night (which I think is meant to be at the motel) and where they have lunch in St. Louis which, again, looks a little bit better, especially since it's in a fairly big city. And as if that wasn't enough, there's the people you have to deal with in these places on top of everything else, such as sleazy-looking cab drivers like Doobie, full-on country bumpkins like Owen, unsympathetic motel managers like the guy who runs the El Rancho, and out-and-out thieves like the one who breaks into Neal and Del's motel room and takes all their money. (And in case you've read some of my other stuff and are wondering, "Don't you live in a place like this?", my response is, "Exactly!") Once you've had to deal with all of this, it feels so good when you get back home.
While we're on the subject of the location work, I have to give kudos to the cinematography by Don Peterman. The film is shot very well, never coming across as fancy or overly filmic but rather as just very down-to-Earth and traditional, which is perfectly suitable for this story. The camerawork also makes the locations look really good, or really bad, depending on which ones we're talking about, with some of the best examples being the shots of the countryside during the exterior shots of the train. The fields, cow pastures, bridges, and tunnels you see during that section are made to look very picturesque, accentuated by the lovely blue sky and the patches of snow on the ground, and there are some really nice-looking shots at the station and aboard the train, with cool shafts of lights in the middle of crowds and coming through windows. Chicago is also shot very well, with some nice pieces of far-off cinematography when Del is left behind at the train station, signifying how he's now back to being alone, and the image of him sitting in the station by himself may be lit with yellow-orange sunlight coming through the windows but it's made to feel very lonely and cold, which it is. And then, there's Neal's very nice-looking, upper-class house, which has such a welcoming feeling when they finally reach it, especially after all he's been through to get there, and it's topped off by his family waiting for him inside. Another thing about the film's look is that you can tell it was really cold when they were shooting: there's snow everywhere, the skies often shift from being nice and blue to overcast, gray, and miserable, and the night scenes look like they might as well be in Antarctica. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the cast and crew to make this movie, and according to some, John Hughes often wasn't in the best of moods, as he was going through a rough patch in his life at the time, which must've made it even worse.
All that said about its down-to-Earth look and cinematography, however, Hughes does come up with some interesting images, sight gags, and ways of shooting and editing things throughout the film. First of all, you have to love the way he gives us tight close-ups of Steve Martin and Kevin Bacon's eyes as they glance at each other upon seeing the same available cab, making it feel like a standoff in the vein of the climax of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Another that's very unique and goes by so quick that you've probably missed it the first few times you watched the movie is the moment when Neal sees Del sitting across from him in the airport and recognizes him as the man who took his cab. Instead of doing a quick flashback to Del's confused and scared reaction to Neal's ranting at him before, Hughes and company do something interesting in that they create a shot that's still in the airport, which you can tell from the background, but they have John Candy dressed up in his blue parka and hat, with the cab door and window framed in front of him, reacting the way he did before. It comes as across as if Neal is mentally picturing Del in that way to prove that he is the one and, while it may seem like a lot work for a split-second moment, it is still interesting to see. Among the other sight gags, you have the board at the Chicago airport that switches from DELAYED to CANCELLED right down the line and, when Ben Stein makes a similar announcement in the Wichita airport, if you look behind him, you'll see that the board there reads, Destination: NOWHERE. There's also a moment where the camera acts as Neal's nervous POV when he and Del walk into their room at the Braidwood Inn and Neal sees that there's only one bed and then glances uncomfortably at Del. The sequence where Hughes and company go all-out with this is during the scene where Neal and Del are driving on the road at night. There's a lot of quick cutting when Del gets his coat-sleeves snagged on either side of the seat to make it even funnier when he's trying to get loose and when the car goes into a spin when he's forced to drive with his legs and eventually loses control when he hits the brakes to avoid a curb, the camera watches the car spinning around crazily like a top as it heads down the road. Things get downright cartoonish in the bit after that when they don't realize they're going the wrong way until it's too late and they go right between two semi-trucks heading towards them. There's a hilariously quick, tight zoom-in on Del's screaming face, for a fraction of a second, you see them both as skeletons, and when Neal looks over at Del, he sees him as a cackling red devil with a pitchfork. It's beyond hilarious. And finally, there's something that Doug Walker commented on in one of his Nostalgia Critic videos: when Neal gets on the commuter train to finally head home when he and Del reach Chicago, instead of instantly realizing that there was something amiss about what he said, his thoughts initially go to the good food and family that are waiting for him, and when he thinks of his wife, his mind then goes to memories of the rather gay situations he and Del found themselves in, making him laugh. That makes him remember Del saying that his wife likes the type of person he is, and that's when Neal remembers that he once mentioned, "I haven't been home in years," which makes him look back to where he left Del. It's a very natural way for Neal's mind to put everything together, remember that statement, and realize that something doesn't gel.
There are many different styles of comedy on display in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, such as funny wordplay and dialogue, sight gags, and full-on, cartoony slapstick. It's also noteworthy how the humor straddles the edge of downright raunchiness in how crude it gets, with lines like, "If I wanted a joke, I'd follow you into the john and watch you take a leak," "You play with your balls a lot... Larry Bird doesn't do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!", and, "I feel like a Whopper. Turn me over, I'm done on this side. I'm afraid to look at my ass. There'll be griddle marks," as well as in how messed up and disgusting the Braidswood Inn bathroom looks after Del gets through with it, Neal realizing too late that he's drying his face with a pair of Del's underwear, and Own shaking Neal's hand with the one he used to wipe his face after spitting, but it never completely goes over into straight-up Farrelly Brothers territory. You're not going to have any fart, burp, or puke jokes, discussions of masturbation and sex, and the like (aside from the stuff about the balls, including when Neal gets grabbed by them, the only sexual stuff is how the couple making out on the bus are shown having a smoke afterward and the famous, "Those aren't pillows" scene); this movie is far more sophisticated. In fact, if it hadn't been for the scene where Neal goes on that f-bomb-filled tirade against the rental car agent, the movie wouldn't have gotten a rating any higher than PG-13, because the profanity otherwise doesn't get any stronger than "goddamn" and "shit." That fact really makes the scene stand out, as it comes out of nowhere with its level of crudeness and is over-the-top to the point where it feels like a parody. And speaking over-the-top, that section with them on the road is where the film becomes the most like that in terms of its cartoonishness, feeling like a cross between the Three Stooges and Loony Tunes. In fact, there's not much other slapstick aside from that, as most of the humor comes from the clever- and crudeness of the dialogue and visuals, Neal's awkwardness and the irritating things that keep happening to him, and Del's being unintentionally annoying.
Neal's problems start right at the beginning of the movie, where he waits with baited breath for the elderly executive, Bryant, to make a decision on what image to go for in the marketing campaign, when he really needs to get going to catch his flight to Chicago. Eventually, they decide to wait until after the holiday, and Neal heads out with his briefcase and satchel. Significantly, when he gets to the elevator, he realizes that he left his gloves back in the boardroom but decides to go without them since he figures it'll be fine once he gets on the plane, a decision that he'll come to regret throughout the film. As his friend John warned him, the streets are jammed with rush hour traffic and it's virtually impossible to get a cab. Neal walks down the crowded sidewalks, looking for any hope of one, and he says that a guy on the sidewalk across from him is doing the same. Then, at the same time, they both spot one down the road and they lock eyes, knowing what the other is thinking, with the one guy smiling at him. They then take off down their respective sidewalks, weaving and bobbing around the bystanders as they try to get ahead of each other, with Neal running into a guy who looks like he's dancing on the sidewalk for no reason. His competitor gets held up a loading cart that's pulled into his path, giving Neal the edge, much to the man's frustration, and it looks like Neal's going to be the winner, as he comes upon the cab. But, when he prepares to cross the street towards it, he trips over something and falls into the street, an oncoming car slamming on the brakes just in time. It drives around him and he sees the guy he was racing reach the cab and take it, saluting him before getting into the backseat. Defeated, Neal stands up and sees that what he tripped over is a large, dull green trunk with stickers all over. Looking around, Neal spots a guy down the sidewalk from him who easily manages to flag a cab down and he rushes over to him before he can take it, asking if he can have it. The man isn't willing to let him have it and is about to take it, when Neal offers him $10, then $20. While they're talking, a man slips by them and knocks on the trunk. As the guy forces Neal to give him $50, then $75, the impatient cab driver gets out and helps the third man load his big, heavy trunk and briefcase into the cab. Neal then finally gives the selfish attorney his money and begrudgingly wishes him a happy holiday, just as the cab peels away from him. Realizing what's happened, Neal chases after the cab down the street, telling him to pull over and that he's messing with the wrong guy. When the cab stops at a red light, Neal catches up to it, yanks open the right back door, and rants at the guy sitting there, who looks at him with a shocked, frightened expression, giving us our first real look at Del Griffith. The cab then lurches forward, the door slamming shut as a result and causing Neal to drop his briefcase, which is immediately driven over by a couple of cars, including another cab. Eventually, he does make it to the airport and rushes through as fast as he can, only to find that his flight's been delayed and he rushed through the way he did for nothing.
While waiting for his delayed flight in the airport, Neal notices Del sitting across from him and recognizes him as the man who took his cab; Del also recognizes him but can't figure out who he is, until Neal tells him that he took the cab he hailed on Park Avenue. Once Del thinks about how unusually easy it was for him to get one during rush hour, he apologizes profusely and asks Neal to let him make it up to him. He offers him a hotdog and a beer, then just a hotdog, followed up by coffee, milk, soda, tea, Lifesavers, and a Slurpee, Neal turning them all down and get progressively irritated with each one. Things don't improve much for Neal when he finally gets on the plane, as he's bumped from 1st Class to Coach, argues with a really bitchy stewardess, and, much to his consternation, has to sit next to Del (incidentally, the exterior shots of the plane flying during this part are taken from Airplane!, another Paramount movie). Del then formally introduces himself as a salesman of shower curtain rings and when he gets Neal to tell him who he is and what he does, Neal admits to not being much of a conversationalist and asks if he could just read the article in his magazine. Del understands, but doesn't realize how annoying he's being, as he goes on, "Don't let me stand in your way. Please, don't let me stand in your way. The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn't know when to keep his big trap shut. If you catch me running off with my mouth, just give me a poke on the chubbs." Then, it seems like he's finally going to be quiet, only for him to take his shoe off, be way too vocal about how good it feels, and then follow up with his sock, more relieved moaning, and flapping it in the air, much to the irritation of Neal and the old man sitting to his right. Later on, with the lights out as everyone's trying to sleep, Neal has to deal with the old man having fallen asleep on his shoulder and then coughing. He looks to his left and sees that Del appears to be asleep, when he suddenly opens his eyes and tells him, "Six bucks and my right nut says we're not going to be landing in Chicago." He's right, as the flight gets diverted to Wichita after the Chicago airport is shut down, and after Neal calls his wife to inform her of what's going on, Del tells him he's sure that they're going to cancel the flight and that he'll be stuck in Wichita. And, again, he's proven right when the announcement is made and, as he also predicted, there's not a single room to be found. Del that informs him that he's called the Braidwood Inn and offers him a room for the night if he doesn't mind picking up the cab fare. When he sees that it's either that or sleeping at the airport, as one guy's doing next to a garbage can nearby, Neal agrees. And as he helps Del with his luggage, he learns that it was his trunk that he tripped over and caused him to miss the first cab.
In the next scene, Neal is probably wishing he'd stayed in the airport, as he and Del are being driven to the Braidwood Inn by Doobby, a really creepy and uncomfortable cab driver, whose cab is actually an outfitted red 1968 Pontiac Bonneville, with small lights on it, a license plate that simply says WOLF, golden patterns and letters along the sides that read, Doobby's Taxiola, a plastic devil head atop the radio antenna, a bunch of unsavory pictures of women taped to the inside, among other things. After Doobby winks at him, Neal asks Del where the motel is and when he asks him, Doobby says it's not much farther, and says that he figured Neal would like to see the sights, which is why he didn't take the interstate. Neal grumbles to Del about it being the middle of the night and Del says, "I know, I know, but he's proud of his town. You know, that's a damn rare thing these days." Once they reach the inn and they pull up, the car's body suddenly slumps closer to the ground, as if something's deflating, and when Neal steps out, he sees that the place is hardly the Ritz, with two lowlifes going through the front door. After they check in (with Neal unknowingly grabbing the discount card Del used by mistake and Del grabbing Neal's credit card, as they look identical), they then find out that they've been booked into the last room in the whole place, and once they're in the room, Neal, after scanning it and noticing how cheap it is, notices that there's only one bed. He and Del look at each other uncomfortably and try to change the subject by talking about the cab ride while putting away their stuff. Neal glances at the bed again, when Del suddenly says, "You want to take a shower?", to which he quickly responds, "No!" They then have an awkward laugh when they realize what each other meant. Cut to Neal in the shower, glancing up at the curtain rings that he knows Del sold to the inn, while out in the room, Del is unpacking. Neal soaps up his face, only for the water to suddenly cut off, and when he opens his eyes in surprise, his eyes start burning and becomes irritated at the situation. Del's shown unpacking his pillow and a picture of his wife, while in the bathroom, the shower suddenly comes back on, scalding hot, and as Del enjoys himself, watching TV, smoking, and puts a quarter in the vibrating bed (I wonder if they still have those?), Neal gets out of the shower to see what an ugly mess Del made of the bathroom. Even worse, he only has a tiny washrag to dry himself with.
Later, the two of them are trying to get situated in the bed, which is Neal is having trouble doing, and it's then revealed that his side of the bed is soaked in beer from Del making the mistake of leaving some cans on the bed when it was vibrating. Despite the discomfort, Neal says he just wants to get to sleep and Del says the same... and then, he appears to be trying to read a book with the light from his cigarette lighter. After a cutaway that shows that Neal's wife is unable to sleep and is watching TV in bed, Del is then shown popping his knuckles and every other joint he can think of, most notably his neck (truth be told, I do that all the time, so I'm not going to say anything about it). After that, you hear a scratching sound that I used to think was Del but, looking at him over Neal's shoulder, he doesn't appear to be moving at all, begging the question, "What's making that sound?" Another cutaway to show that Susan Page has fallen asleep and now, Del is making irritating and disgusting sounds with his nose and throat. After doing so for a little bit, he seems to be finished and apologizes to Neal, only to do it again. That's the last straw for Neal, who angrily gets out of bed and starts putting his clothes on, as Del tries to explain that he'll snore if he doesn't clear his sinuses. They then get into an argument, each accusing the other of getting under his skin, and when Del tells him to sleep in the motel lobby and that he hopes he gets so stiff that he won't be able to move, Neal really goes off on him about his annoying habits. "Didn't you notice on the plane, when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag. Didn't that give you some sort of clue, like hey, maybe this guy's not enjoying it? You know everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You're a miracle! Your stories have none of that. They're not even amusing accidentally! 'Honey, I'd like you to meet Del Griffith, he's got some amusing anecdotes for you. Oh, and here's a gun so you can blow your brains out. You'll thank me for it.' I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. They'd say, 'How can you stand it?' I'd say, 'Cause I've been with Del Griffith. I can take anything.' You know what they'd say? They'd say, 'I know what you mean. The shower curtain ring guy. Whoa.' It's like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest, you know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except I wouldn't pull it out and snap it back; you would. Agh! Agh! Agh! Agh! And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!" Following that is when Del gives him that great speech and makes Neal slowly realize he went too far.
The next morning, unaware that someone broke into their room in the night and robbed them, Neal and Del, who've snuggled up with each other, slowly come around, with Del kissing Neal's ear. Neal smiles at first but he slowly wakes up and realizes what just happened, waking Del up and asking, "Why'd you just kiss my ear?" Del then looks down at their entwined hands and asks, "Why are you holding my hand?" Neal then asks, "Where's your other hand?" Del answers, "Between two pillows," and Neal makes the horrifying realization that, "Those aren't pillows!" They jump out of bed, screaming and flinging their hands and arms in disgust, and then, act like they're doing morning exercises and start talking about the Bears. Neal walks into the bathroom, as Del groans, "Ohh! Eh-yaah!" Neal then puts some water on his face from the sink to try to calm his nerves, only to then notice how it smells and to look down and see that the sink has one of Del's socks floating in brown, grimy water. Disgusted, Neal grabs the nearest thing he can find to wipe his face, only to then see that it's a pair of Del's underwear, as he tells him from outside to take his socks out of the sink if he's going to brush his teeth. While they're having breakfast later, and Del suggests they get out of Wichita, via railroad, they then discover that they were robbed when they open up their wallets and see that their money's gone, but not before Neal accuses Del of robbing him and Del makes him count his money to see if there's any more than there should be. After that, as they're sitting outside the Braidwood Inn, discussing what to do and Del suggesting that they charge their way home since the thief didn't take their credit cards, he then says that Gus' son is going to pick them up and take them to the train station. That's when a beat-up pickup truck comes barrelling into the motel parking lot and they meet Owen, who makes a disgusting impression from the get-go with his spitting and snorting. Even worse, he tells them that the only trains that run out of Wichita carry livestock, whereas the nearest passenger train comes out of Stubbville. Feeling that'd be fine, the two of them go to load their stuff, and turn down Owen's offer to have his poor wife do it for them. Next, they're having to sit in the back of the pickup truck in the freezing cold and Del informs Neal that Stubbville could be close to 45 miles away... that is, depending on which route Owen takes. Seeing a glove at his feet, Neal reaches for it, only for a vicious dog to pop up out of the hay and bark and snarl at him. He tries to get the glove again and gets nipped on the finger, making it clear that he's not getting it. As they keep on driving, Neal asks what the temperature is and Del answers, "One." By the time they reach Stubbville, Neal, Del, and even the dog, are completely frostbitten and frozen.
Once they're on the train, it seems like things are back on track for Neal, that is until something happens, causing it to come to a complete stop. With the train broken down, everybody is forced to disembark, with Del being forced to drag his trunk along the ground behind him while the conductor gives Neal tips on how to reach nearby Jefferson City. Seeing Del up ahead, the two of them exchange looks and Neal reluctantly runs up to him and picks up the other end of the trunk, as they walk with everyone else. At the bus station, Del tells Neal that his lousy mood isn't bound to approve once they get on the bus. In the next cut, we see them on the crowded bus, with an annoying kid running back and forth down the middle of the seats to add to the irritation. As they're sitting there, Del calls Neal's attention over to the seat across from him, where a young couple is passionately making out. Neal tries not to stare but he finds it hard not to when the girl leans back across the center of the bus, as the guy is kissing her lips, her neck, and everything else. The girl then notices Neal, as does her lover, who asks, "Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer." Del then laughs at Neal for getting busted, and then informs him that their bus tickets are only going to take them as far as St. Louis. Neal then looks back over at the couple and sees them smoking, as if they just got done having sex. In the next cut, Del is leading the other passengers in a sing-along and Neal tries to throw a suggestion out, but his choice of Three Coins in a Fountain falls flat, prompting Del to lead everyone in the Flintstones theme song as the bus arrives in St. Louis. Once there, Del puts his salesman skills to work at the bus station, selling his shower curtain rings off as earrings to a bunch of women through various sales pitches, like claiming that they're autographed by Diane Sawyer, are connected to Walter Cronkite, they're filled with helium to make them very light, and that they make these three girls look like they could pass for 18 or 19, and manages to get quite a bit of cash-flow from these deals.
After breaking off from Del for the second time in one day, Neal attempts to rent a car from the airport to drive the rest of the way to Chicago and is dropped off at the lot to pick up the one assigned to him, but when he reaches the correct space, he finds that it's completely empty. Seeing the bus driving away, Neal rushes after it, saying that he needs a ride back to the rental office, but the driver doesn't hear him and drives off, leaving him stranded. Furious, he slams his satchel down, tosses away the rental agreement, and yells, curses, and gestures like a madman, as he sees the bus drive out of sight. Walking along the center of the freeway, he makes it to a snow-covered slope leading down to the road beneath an overpass and tries to walk down it as carefully as he can. But, try as he might, he's unable to keep himself losing balance and sliding down the hill, over the concrete embankment. Having fallen on the edge of the road, he reaches for his hat but it gets run over by a truck and is completely gone once the vehicle has passed. Making it back to the airport, he storms along the runway and makes it through the door, his shoes covered in mud and slush, his tie a disheveled mess to the right of his neck, which he rips off, and his face a very sour expression. Stomping up to rental car agency's desk, Neal's mood isn't helped by the giggling agent who's talking on the phone and not paying attention to him. Finally, she hangs up the phone after telling the person she's talking to, "Gobble, gobble," and, noticing the way Neal looks, asks if she can help him. He growls, "Yes," and when she asks how she may help him, he proceeds to completely unleash on her: "You can start by wiping that fucking dumbass smile off your rosey, fucking cheeks! And you can give me a fucking automobile: a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick! Four fucking wheels and a seat!" She tells him that she doesn't care for his choice of language and he responds, "And I really don't care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn't fucking there. And I really didn't care to fucking walk down a fucking highway and across a fucking runway, to get back here to have you smile in my fucking face. I want a fucking car right... fucking... now." After all that, she asks to see his rental agreement and when he says he threw it away, she goes, "Oh, boy." He asks what she means by that and she bluntly tells him, "You're fucked."
Storming outside, Neal goes to a cab dispatcher and when he tells him that he plans to go to Chicago in the cab, he jokes, "Why don't you try the airlines? It's faster and you get a free meal." Not in the mood, Neal makes the mistake of insulting the man, and when he follows that up with, "Now are you gonna help me or are you gonna stand there like a slab of meat with mittens?", the dispatcher promptly decks him in the face and Neal falls backwards onto the road, right in the path of a rental car that comes at him slipping every which way. The driver slams on the brakes and stops just short of running Neal over. When Neal looks up, he sees that the driver is Del. The dispatcher yells at Del to get his car out of the way and Del, concerned for Neal, says, "Yeah, just-just a minute, okay?" The guy yells at him again to move it and Del looks right at him and asks, "What is your problem, you insensitive asshole!" Del then says that he'll move his car but he wants him to help Neal up, much to Neal's horror. The dispatcher responds by saying, "My pleasure," and as Del gets back inside the car, he grabs Neal by his balls and pulls him along as he groans in pain. In the next scene, they're driving out of the city in Del's rental car (which is a crappy-looking Chrysler that looks as if the wheels are about to come off; it was meant to resembles the car the Griswalds drove in National Lampoon's Vacation), with Neal trying to get comfortable, while Del asks, "You alright? I've never seen a guy get picked up by his testicles before. Lucky thing for you that cop passed by when he did; therwise, you'd be lifting up your schnutz to tie you shoes." He then says, "Do you have any idea how glad I am I didn't kill you?", to which Neal, in a very high voice, asks, "Do you have any idea how glad I'd be if you had?" Del tells him he has to learn to go with the flow, leading to this exchange: "How am I supposed to go with the flow when the rental car agency leaves me in a 100-acre parking lot with keys to a car that isn't there, then I have to hike back 3 miles to find out they don't have any more cars?" "I got a car, no sweat at all." "Well Del, you're a charmed man." "Nope." "Oh, I know. You just go with the flow." "Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream."
That night, Neal is now driving with Del in the passenger seat, the reclining feature of which he continues fidgeting with because, as he says, he has a bad back and there are only a few positions where it doesn't hurt him. Finally, he gets it in the perfect position, but then, he can't reach his feet in order to take his shoes off, saying that he can't relax with them on. When Neal says that he doesn't care to smell Del's feet, Del tells him that there are things about him that get on his nerves, which is when accuses him of playing with balls a lot. After arguing about it for a bit, Del decides to grant Neal his wish and stop talking, followed by his seat jerking backwards. In a cut, they've switched sides again and, unfortunately for Neal, Del did break the passenger seat. He tries to do what he can with it when the seat suddenly jerks forwards and presses his face up against the windshield before jerking back. They both agree that they don't want to argue and Neal, using his coat as a blanket, tries to get some sleep, putting his wallet in the glove compartment and telling Del not to let him forget it. Later, Del is listening to the Ray Charles song, Mess Around, while driving and smoking, and gets so into it, bobbing his head, miming playing a piano, a saxophone, and dancing that he nearly skids off the road twice. Once the song's over, and after he glances at the still-sleeping Neal, Del attempts to toss his cigarette out the window but unknown to him, it hits the edge of it and is knocked into the backseat, still lit. Feeling a little warm, Del attempts to take his parka off while continuing to drive, only for the right sleeve to get snagged on a dial on the side of the seat that controls the incline of it. Quickly realizing that he's stuck, he tries to shake it loose and, when that doesn't work, reaches over towards it, nearly skidding onto the wrong lane. He tries again and, again, skids, this time all the way onto the other side of the highway before moving back over. Unable to wrench it loose, he decides to try to take it off from the other side, only for that one to get snagged on something as well. Now with both arms stuck, Del realizes he's in serious trouble and, trying not to wake Neal, tries to get one of them loose while keeping the car steady by using the insides of his thighs to work the wheel. Once he's gotten it steady enough, he starts trying to wrench himself free, driving off onto an exit as he struggles. When he sees that they're heading for the edge of the road, he panics and slams on the brakes, sending the car spinning like a top down the ledge of it to the right while he screams like a little girl and unintentionally rips his arms loose. Neal wakes up, oblivious to what's just happened, and when he asks Del what's going on, Del says that they almost hit a deer. Neal suggests that he take his parka off since it's getting hot in the car. Del says that he will, heading back the way they came, unaware that he's now driving the wrong way on the freeway and two semis are coming at them from the other direction.
Seeing them going the wrong way, a driver on the other side of the road with his wife beeps his horn and yells at him. Del, thinking it's some kind of challenge, beeps back and when Neal asks what's going on, he says that that guy wants to race. Neal looks over and sees the guy motioning with his hand, while Del is all up for a race. The driver yells at Neal to put his window down and he figures out that the man wants something, although Del dismisses him of being drunk. Rolling the window down, Neal hears them both yell, "You're going the wrong way!" and when he tells Del what he said, he goes, "Oh, he's drunk! How would he know where we're going?" Agreeing with what Del said, they both yell thank you in a patronizing way and continue driving, the semis now not too far from them. The driver yells again, clarifying that they're going in the wrong direction, which Del responds to by miming drinking and being sauced. They then yell, "You're going to kill somebody!" and Neal then looks out the window and notices that they're driving in the same direction they are, even though they're on the opposite road. They again yell that they're going the wrong way and Neal now understands what he means. Looking up ahead, he sees both of the semis coming right at them and tries to warn Del but is so frightened that he can barely get the word "truck" out. He tugs on his coat sleeve while pointing and Del, at the last minute, sees them and screams as they go right between them, scraping the sides of them and sending sparks everywhere, as Neal hallucinates that Del is a maniacally laughing devil. Del hits the brakes when they're clear, the sudden stop sending their luggage tied to the back flying through the air and bouncing along the road.
Once the trucks are gone, Neal pulls his fingernails out of the dashboard, leaving dents in the leather, while Del lets go of the wheel, revealing that he bent the top of it forward. Del pulls the car around to the correct side of the road and they both get out to assess the damage, Del being unreasonably optimistic about it not being that bad, even though their near-miss left a long line of burns, slices, and large dents in the side of the car. Trying to laugh it off, saying that they can since they're alright, Del sees Neal's angry face and quickly shuts up, suggesting that they probably just get the stuff out of the road. Going to do so, he complains about his back and Neal once again helps him, getting Del's trunk over to the side of the road. They sit down to take a breather, when Del, hearing something, looks back and sees flames in the backseat. He just turns back around and Neal does the same, the two of them being so tired and out of it that it takes a bit for them to realize what's happening, as they slowly exchange glances and then turn back around to see the car completely engulfed in flames. Standing up and trying to process what they're seeing, Neal starts laughing at the absurdity, followed by Del, as Neal tells him he finally screwed himself over and that he's in big trouble when he returns the car. He then asks him how he managed to rent it without a credit card and Del, after joking that he sold the girl behind the counter some shower curtain rings, he forced to confess about using Neal's diner's club card that ended up in his possession to rent it. Neal immediately goes on a tirade, accusing Del of stealing it, and Del says that he thought he put it in his wallet out of kindness, which infuriates him even more. Del says that he was going to mail back to him along with the charge for the car and some interest and Neal grabs him by the collar of his shirt, shaking him and demanding he give the card back, which is when Del tells him that he put it back in his wallet when they stopped for gas before; in short, it's now burning up with the rest of Neal's credit cards. Glancing back at the now almost skeletonized car, Neal slumps against Del's shoulder in defeat, and when he asks if he's mad, Neal answers with a punch right to the gut. But, he then trips over the trunk, so his victory lasts for a fraction of a second.
They then arrive at the nearby El Rancho motel, forced to drive the burnt out husk of the car, while Del admonishes Neal for slugging him in the gut, saying he could've killed him. In the office, Neal asks for one room, telling Del to get his own, and when the manager asks for a major credit card, he takes the crispy, black husks of his cards out of the burning remains of his wallet and lays them on the desk. The manager just looks at them and says, "Um, these aren't, uh, credit cards," and Neal offers to pay cash instead. Unfortunately, the charge is $42.50 and Neal only has $17. The manager says that he can't take that and poor Neal begs him, "Please, have mercy. I've been wearing the same underwear since Tuesday," which Del corroborates. The manager explains that he doesn't own the place and Neal, out of desperation, takes off his fancy watch, adding it to the money, which does get him the room, as he goes back out and backs the still smoldering car up to it. Del, however, isn't so lucky, as he doesn't have the money for the room either, nor does he have $17 and a good watch; he has $2 and a Casio. He tries to pass the latter of as something fancy but the manager's response is, "I'm gonna have to say good night." Following that is when Neal, feeling sorry for Del having to sit outside in the freezing cold, invites him into his room and they have a laugh over the crap they've been through with some small beers and chips. That scene ends with Del burning himself when he tries to turn the lamp off. The next morning, the two of them are trying to get the car out of the snowdrift it's now stuck in and when they can't get it out by going forward, Del suggests that they rock it a little bit. He puts it in reverse and hits the gas, causing him to plow backwards through the window of the room. Neither of them take it that seriously, especially Neal, and Del quickly drives forward, allows Neal to get into the car, and they speed off out of the parking lot and onto the highway, Del having to signal with his arm when they make a turn. As they drive down the road, they sing to themselves to make the time pass, driving by another car and stunning the people inside it. Unfortunately, they also catch the attention of a cop, clocks them going at 78mph and takes off after them, much to Neal's irritation, as Del explains he had no idea how fast they were going because of the melted speedometer. When he's pulled them over, he's shocked more by the condition of their vehicle than he is anything else, and he notes that they have no outside mirror or any gauges that are working, although Del does comment that the radio is still working. The officer says that he can't let them continue driving it and that it'll be impounded until it can be made safe to drive again. Del tries to appeal to the officer's better nature, saying that he won't be able to get Neal home in time for Thanksgiving if the car is impounded, complete with Neal smiling at him...
...and in the next cut, we're at a courthouse, where a wrecker is hauling away the rental car. Neal is waiting outside when a huge, red cargo truck pulls up beside him and Del gets out of the passenger side of it, saying that their ship has come in. Neal doesn't care, as long as it's warm, but Del mentions that the driver doesn't care for people riding up in his cab, so they can't sit there (note that Del now has a black eye, no doubt a result of him climbing up in the cab). They're forced to sit in the cold cargo part of the truck, huddled between huge stacks of boxes, and Del tells the bundled up Neal that he's going to be in Chicago in less than three hours. Sure enough, Neal finally makes it back home and, at the commuter train station, he thanks Del for helping him. When his train car pulls up, they shake hands, Neal tells him he's a little wiser after all he's been through, and they then share a heartfelt hug. Del wishes him a happy Thanksgiving, telling him to give his love to the family, and Neal tells Del to say hello to Marie for him. Neal boards the car and it heads down the monorail, the two of them sharing one last wave before Del is left all by himself, hauling away his luggage. Neal thinks about the family and good food that are waiting for him, has a laugh when his mind drifts to the crazy stuff that happened to him and Del like their cuddling up with each other in bed and the car catching on fire, and then thinks about the argument they had the first night, remembering Del saying, "I like me. My wife likes me." He then remembers the look on Del's face when he told him that at least he has someone he loves to grow old with, if nothing else, and his saying, "I haven't been home in years." That makes him realize that something doesn't add up and when the train stops, he gets off and heads back to the station, to find Del sitting there by himself. When he asks him what he's doing, Del is forced to make the heartbreaking confession that he has no home and that Marie has been dead for eight years. Hit with this revelation, Neal brings Del home with him for Thanksgiving, the two of them carrying his trunk down the middle of the street to his house which, when Del sees it, makes him tell Neal that he's a lucky man. Walking up to the door, Marti answers it and is overjoyed to see her father, who's then greeted by a waiting, happy family. Neal then introduces Del to everyone in his family and, seeing Susan standing at the top of the stairs, introduces her to Del and they share a soft but heartfelt greeting. The movie ends with Del watching Neal and his wife embrace, with a somewhat sad but warm smile on his face, as he clutches his hat in his hands.
Ira Newborn, who did the music for a lot of John Hughes' films and would go on to work with him one last time on Uncle Buck, composed the score and it's quite varied in terms of the styles of music used, jumping back and forth between poppy synthesizer and electronic pieces to those played on conventional instruments, and some parts of the score are instrumental versions of songs. Leonard Maltin has actually described the music score as one of the movie's faults, describing it as awful, which I wholeheartedly disagree with. I really enjoy the music here, like the fast-paced electronic theme that plays when Neal races to catch a taxi; an often-used theme that sounds like it's being played on a child's electronic keyboard (which is Red River Rock by Silicon Teens); a harmonica piece that's often used to accentuate the crappy situations Neal and Del find themselves in, such as when the Chicago airport shuts down and they have to disembark from the train; a distinctive electronic melody that's heard in two versions, one by itself and the other where it's accompanied by a nice, driving beat (it's actually an instrumental version of a Book of Love song called Modigliani, aka Lost in Your Eyes); a scratchy, synthesized piece when Neal and Del consider the situation of their having to share a bed at the Braidwood Inn; a high-pitched, plucking, almost classical-sounding, theme when Neal is having a hard time in the shower; a really funny and exciting bit when Del gets his coat snagged while driving; and a theme that's both suspenseful but over-the-top and funny when they're driving the wrong way. My favorite part of the score, though, is this quiet but very emotional, melodic, and moving electronic theme that's an instrumental version of the song, Power to Believe by the Dream Academy. You hear it twice in the movie and both times are at very significant points: when Del is giving Neal his speech after he's torn him apart verbally and during the bit near the end when Neal is riding on the commuter train and is thinking about everything that's happened to him. It fits perfectly both times, as it plays into how much Neal's rant hurt Del, that he's probably heard this before, and he's not going to let it get to him, and it's also very reflective and comes back around into the sad reality of Del's life and how much harsher all the stuff Neal said was in hindsight. And just like the ending, it's also very bittersweet to hear it while looking at John Candy.
Among the actual songs on the soundtrack, which are just as varied in their styles as the score, you have the aforementioned Mess Around by Ray Charles; a cover of Patsy Cline's Back in Baby Arms by Emmylou Harris, which plays when Neal and Del are snuggling in the bed and actually makes that scene kind of sweet; BA-NA-NA-BAM-BOO by Westworld, which plays when they're riding on the bus; I'll Show You Something Special by Balaam and the Angel, when they're being taxied around by Doobby; Six Days on the Road by Steve Earle and the Dukes and Gonna Move by Dave Edmunds (although I must confess, I don't remember where either of those songs were in the film), among others. The song Everytime You Go Away by Blue Room plays during the last part of the movie, when Neal finally makes it home and you see Del's smiling, happy face as he watches him embrace his wife, and it adds to the heartwarming nature of the scene without being too schmaltzy, and I Can Take Anything, which is just a remix of various lines from the movie played to a beat that sounds like a DJ scratching a record. You hear it for the first time when Neal loses it upon being left at the parking lot with no rental car, when he walks back to the airport, and to the buildup to his insulting the cab dispatcher, and there, you hear Steve Martin's line, "You're messing with the wrong guy," repeated a few times; it's played again during the middle of the ending credits, now with a bunch of lines from both Martin and John Candy.