Uptight advertising executive Neal Page just wants to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, every mode of transportation somehow fails him and he is stuck with Del Griffith, a traveling shower curtain ring salesman who won't shut up. Through delayed planes, broken down trains and burned-out automobiles Neal and Del go from being at each other's throats to friends.The film is probably best known for the sole scene responsible for its R rating; in which Neal, after being abandoned in a rental car parking lot where the car he rented isn't there, is forced to walk three miles back to the airport, whereupon he goes on a tirade against the rental agent. But it is not so much said tirade, as the rental agent's response to it. Roger Ebert probably puts it best:
"The other great comic set piece in the movie is responsible for its R rating; nothing else in the movie would qualify for other than PG-13. This is Neal's verbal symphony for the f-word, performed by the desperate man after a rental-car bus strands him three miles from the terminal without a car. He has to walk back through the snow and mud, crossing runways, falling down embankments, until he finally faces a chirpy rental agent (Edie McClurg) who is chatting on the phone about the need for tiny marshmallows in the ambrosia. When she sweetly asks Neal if he is disturbed, he unleashes a speech in which the adjectival form of the f-word supplies the prelude to every noun, including itself, and is additionally used as punctuation. When he finishes, the clerk has a two-word answer that supplies one of the great moments in movie dialogue."
This film featured John Candy and Steve Martin in one of the best comedy performances of the 1980s. The film was directed by John Hughes, best known for teen angst films until that time, and is widely regarded as his magnum opus.
This film provides examples of:
The Alleged Car: After being sideswiped by two semi-trucks simultaneously and set on fire, it still ran.
State Trooper: Do you have any idea how fast you were going?
Del: 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 the radio somehow still worked as well. Practically nothing else on the dashboard survived, but the radio? No problem.
Brick Joke: Three of them—two with short airtimes, and one that had been hanging for about an hour—come together to great effect: A hotel clerk swaps their credit cards, Neal puts his wallet in a rental car's glove compartment asking Del to remind him to remove it, and Del flicks a cigarette out the window only for it to bounce back in unnoticed. Del reveals he had the credit card and returned it to Neal's wallet—just as the car catches fire incinerating the wallet.
During the movie, scenes of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner being prepared are shown. During The Stinger, you see the CEO of the company that Neal was giving the ad spiel to at the beginning of the movie, still hasn't decided on which campaign to use, with the dinner on the conference table near him. And, he was played by William Windom, Kevin Bacon's father-in-law from She's Having A Baby.
Butt Monkey: Neal. Not a single thing goes right for him until the very end.
The Cameo: Three from other John Hughes movies; Kevin Bacon competes with Neal for a car, and then Ben Stein announces that all flights have been cancelled … and smiles. Finally, Edie McClurg has to endure the F-bomb rant.
Car Meets Hotel: The two back their burned-out car into the motel room wall, then quickly flee.
Celebrity Paradox: Averted, sort of: At the beginning of the film, Kevin Bacon has a cameo as another commuter who races Neal for a NYC taxicab. Later, there's a scene where Neal's wife is watching television; while you can't see the screen, the audio is of Kevin Bacon in a scene from another John Hughes film, She's Having a Baby.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Neal's uptight and definitely something of a dick, but a lot of his tantrums can be put down to stress at his circumstances and the fact that Del, let's face it, is not the easiest of traveling companions. He's certainly genuinely devoted to his family.
Karma Houdini: The thief who steals Neal and Del's cash never appears again.
My Car Hates Me: Del in spades. Both as a passenger fiddling with the car seat and again while driving the Le Baron.
Stupid Statement Dance Mix: A rare in-media example! The first time we hear this song is when Neal's luck reaches an all-time low once he misses the fucking ride back to the fucking rental car headquarters and is fucking forced to walk down the fucking highway and across a fucking runway, and again, during the first part of the closing credits, after "Every Time You Go Away."
The Stinger: After the credits Neal's boss is still at his desk analyzing the ads, his Thanksgiving dinner sitting on his desk.
Thanksgiving Day Story: The main premise of the story is Neal trying to get home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and that, no matter how dire things might seem, we all have something to be thankful for. It's delivered in such a way that even non-Americans can appreciate it.
Wardrobe Flaw Of Characterization: It's subtle, but the viewer can tell that John Candy's traveling salesman character's suit is off-the-rack and made of a synthetic material, especially by contrast with Steve Martin's successful, wealthy character, who wears one made of fine wool that looks custom-tailored.
Wham Line: For what started out as a light buddy comedy, this one packs an unexpectedly huge wallop: "I don't have a home. Marie's been dead for eight years."
Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Averted if paying attention. When driving from St. Louis to Chicago, it would normally take about 6 hours, but they drive from what looks like early evening deep into the night and then drive for a while in the morning before being told that they are still 3 hours away from Chicago. However, if you look at the officer's State Trooper badges and the name of the truck's company, you'll see where they are. They went into Wisconsin.