The wisdom of 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles'
Thanksgiving is coming up soon for you guys! Not me, because Thanksgiving in Canada happens in October, and our malls have been decorated for Christmas since Halloween. But hey! YOU GUYS!
It’s your time to shine.
American Thanksgiving is a bit of a mystery to me because it’s SUCH A BIG DEAL. Granted, we’ve stolen Black Friday from you, and we also eat turkey and pie with our families, but if you spend Thanksgiving alone here, it’s not thaaaaat big of a deal. Like, you can probably just go to the movies or something. One year, I ate Chef Boyardee because for some reason no one could plan anything in time.
What I’m saying is that nobody here (I don’t think) would go to the lengths Steve Martin goes to in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Which is a movie I love, and we are going to talk about now.
Here are the nine things I’ve learned. [Cue: Ray Charles’ “Mess Around”]
1. START OFF RIGHT: I’ve learned that Thanksgiving is HUGE for Americans
And I am saying this as a Canadian who is STILL floored that you have a giant parade and Thanksgiving episodes and so much celebration. Do you know what we have? …Christmas? I don’t know. This year, my cousin and I found a pioneer village (seriously) and walked around and took selfies like true winners. On YOUR Thanksgiving, however, I will watch the parade on my television and pretend Steve Martin is scrambling to come see me by any means necessary. Why? Because this is my life, and my imagination. LET ME PRETEND.
2. Assume nothing about anybody, ever
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is part of John Hughes’ repertoire and that makes sense because the whole theme of this movie is “don’t judge people.” Seriously: Steve Martin assumes so much about John Candy, and it turns out that John Candy is lonely, sad, and desperate for friendship following the death of his wife. IT’S HEARTBREAKING. But then Steve Martin recognizes, and through him we all learn that everybody has a story, a past, and a ton of baggage. (Like, literally: John Candy carries around a massive trunk.) And because Steve Martin got to know him, he learned these important facts. Before, he was just a guy stuck on a plane next to a dude who kept taking his socks off. (Which, in fairness, I would HATE SO MUCH.)
3. John Candy’s “I like me” speech is one of the best movie monologues, ever
Here’s a very fast way to make me cry: play the clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where John Candy says, “I like me, my wife likes me, my friends like me, my customers like me” and then watch the results. THAT SPEECH IS LIFE. Do you want to get a tattoo and have no idea what to actually get? Get that. Why? Because it’s important to like yourself. PLEASE like yourself. Like your jokes and your outfits and all the things that make you you. John Candy’s character unabashedly likes himself, and that’s what makes Steve Martin’s character so nervous. Because Steve Martin doesn’t like himself and insecurities can turn you into a pretty venomous person (she says, as someone who has been very venomous at times herself).
4. Selfishness looks exactly as bad as this
Do you know how Steve Martin looks ABSOLUTELY OUT OF HIS MIND whenever he’s acting like a total jackass? (In only a way Steve Martin can — like, as an actor. In real life I think we can assume that he is the best.) Or how whenever he lies to John Candy or tries to end their friendship or shames him in some way, we all want to collectively cry and cringe? That’s what selfishness looks like. And I say that because we have alllll been Steve Martin. And we have allllll looked that foolish. In fact…
5. Steve Martin and John Candy represents both parts of us
Let’s get psychological. Steve Martin is like the adult. He’s career-driven, he’s kind of lost track of his priorities, he’s not feeling his best. And then John Candy’s like the kid in us, who believes in passion and love and happiness. And John Candy couldn’t keep going the way he was going, and Steve Martin couldn’t keep going the way he was going. THEY NEEDED EACH OTHER. This movie is about balance; about being a well-rounded human being. I mean, be a grown-ass woman, for sure, but don’t lose track of that kid who made you the person you are now. (See? Now you get why this movie OWNS me.)
6. This is exactly what winter commuting is like
Or maybe this is a movie about winter driving is like. And I am thinking both of the scene where they’re stuck in the back of a truck in -424294 degree weather, and also when John Candy starts driving on the wrong side of the road, almost hits the trucks, and Steve Martin looks at him and sees the devil. THAT is winter commuting. If somebody ever asks “What’s driving in the winter like?” just show them this film and say “All of that. At the same time. Yes, I’m aware you’re not on an actual train.”
7. But let’s close on a serious note: FAMILY IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT
I believe this so much it’s almost frightening. Family is 100% what you decide it is. Is it your friends? Is it the family you were born into? Is it the family you were adopted by? Who is it? It’s up to you. And here, Steve Martin rushes to see his self-made family, but he picks up John Candy, who becomes an extension of it. I think that’s the best part about growing up: you start to find people who mean so much, and who make you come alive, and you take them with you. And then you’ve got this amazing, decked-out, super-family who work exclusively to build you and each other up, and to have your back, and to celebrate the holidays with.
This is why Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is my favorite John Hughes movie. It’s got the camaraderie of The Breakfast Club, but it’s a movie we get to grow into (when we realize, sometimes, after not enough sleep, that we’re starting to act like Steve Martin, so we might need a nap).