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Film / Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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"You're messing with the wrong guy!"
Neal Page

This 1987 film stars Steve Martin and John Candy in two of the best comedy performances of The '80s. It was written and directed by John Hughes, who was best known for his teen angst films up until that time, and is regarded by many as his magnum opus. Both Martin and Candy called it their favorite among their own films.

Uptight marketing executive Neal Page (Martin) just wants to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, each mode of transportation somehow fails him and he is stuck with Del Griffith (Candy), a garrulous traveling shower curtain ring salesman who doesn't quite know when to shut up. Over the course of three days—through delayed planes, broken-down trains, and burned-out automobiles, among various other mishaps—Neal and Del progress from being at each one another's throats to developing an unlikely friendship.

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 isn't so much said tirade, as the rental agent's response. Roger Ebert (who considered this one of his all-time favorite films and watched it every Thanksgiving) 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 provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Neal is finally on the train heading home, he begins to reminisce about all the absurd things he and Del had to deal with the past few days and chuckles at a few of them.
  • 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: Well, funnily enough, I was just talking to my friend about that. Our speedometer has melted and as a result it's very hard to say 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.
  • All There in the Manual: The shooting script included a penultimate scene in a coffee shop where Del gives a lengthy monologue about how he came to be a homeless drifter: he has virtually no family, save an estranged brother and couple of equally estranged cousins. Marie's parents had died within a year of one another after their marriage. Marie and him and wanted three kids, but "she couldn't have any," and after her death, the crippling loneliness got to him, convincing him to sell their house and live out of his trunk and "about 300 motels." Del also acknowledges that he knows he's clingy, especially around the holidays, for these very reasons.
  • Amoral Attorney: The lawyer at the start who gets paid for Neal to take a cab ride he doesn't end up getting due to Del. Lampshaded and freely confessed by the lawyer.
    Neal: You’re a thief!
    Lawyer: Close. I’m an attorney.
  • Amusing Injuries: Del injuring his hand while turning out the light in the second motel.
  • Angry Guard Dog: In the pickup truck that takes Del and Neal to the train station.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Kansas, Neal lists this catalogue of Del's sins against his sanity: spilling beer all over the bed, smoking and messing up the bathroom (all in the hotel), not paying for his share of the stay, and talking nonstop on the plane from New York. It's the latter that angers him more than anything else.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Averted if you're 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 the middle of Wisconsin. In fact, Del's black eye originally came from Neal's anger at him over this instead of a paranoid truck driver refusing them a ride.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The sole reason for Neal's rant. Hughes deliberately wanted the movie to be rated "R", because he felt that if it was rated lower, moviegoers would think he was just cranking out another teen angst film. And it's one of the greatest scenes in the movie.
  • Bed Mate Reveal: Neal: "Why did you kiss my ear?"
  • Big Applesauce: The film starts in New York, two days before Thanksgiving. It's also where Neal first encounters Del, first when Del first steals Neal's cab, and second in the airport.
  • Big Eater: In every motel room scene, Del has a big pile of candy, chips, and various other junk food on the table near his bed.
  • Big Fancy House: The Page family appear to have one, and Neal is trying to get back there for Thanksgiving. At the end of the film, he finally does. With Del.
  • Big Fun: Part of the film's Deconstruction of buddy comedies. On the surface, Del seems like a classic case of this, a big man who easily gets along with people and loves cracking jokes. However, Neal can't stand Del's cheery attitude at first, prompting a conflict between the two of them where Del defends why he acts the way he does and calls out Neal for being cynical. Later, we find out Del's wife has been Dead All Along and he's been lying about it, showing the sadness at the heart of Del's seemingly happy-go-lucky character.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Del tells Neal to check his wallet after Neal finds his own wallet empty thanks to the room thief, saying that if there was a dollar over $263 in it, only then could Neal call him a thief. Del responds with this when Neal finds Del's wallet empty as well.
  • Billionaire Wristband: Neal is introduced looking at his Piaget Polo wristwatch. Later, he trades away his watch when he doesn't have enough money to pay for his motel room.
  • Bland-Name Product: Contrack appears to be a combination of the names Conrail and Amtrak, the two government owned railroads at the time. Conrail, which was dissolved in 1999, operated freight trains, while Amtrak continues to operate passenger trains.
    • Mid-Central Airlines and Marathon Rent-a-Car as well. Oddly, the real-life airline TWA also appears among the aircraft at the St. Louis airport.
  • Blatant Lies: Del manages to sell some of his shower curtain rings to various strangers with all sorts of fanciful and increasingly ridiculous claims - he sells some as earrings, he says others are (variously) filled with helium, made of ivory, worn by Cleopatra, and best of all, custom-made for the "Grand Wizard of China."
  • Book Ends: The movie opens with Neil at a conference, where his boss is ruminating over which picture to use in their advertising. A Post-credits scene shows the boss still in that conference room trying to decide which image is better, to the point he has to have his Thanksgiving dinner there.
  • The Bore: Del may be a very jovial guy, but according to the more cynical and impatient Neal, his story-telling style has a bit of an issue:
    Neal: 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."
  • Bookends: Neal's client in New York mulling over the pictures.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: During their first night together, Neal and Del each have a go at each other. Del points out that Neal is pretty impatient to be unable to put up with a flawed stranger. Neal also doesn't sugarcoat that Del isn't a picnic either, being exceptionally flawed.
  • Bowdlerise: Averted. The filmmakers had the foresight to shoot an alternate version of the scene where Neal chews out the lady at the airport car rental which had no swearing for television broadcasts.
  • 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.
    • Neal realizes he forgot his gloves at the office while in a hurry to catch his flight, but figures he won't need them as he'll be home soon. He eventually winds up on a forty mile ride in the back of a pickup truck in freezing weather without them. He actually sees some gloves back there with him he could use... if not for the Angry Guard Dog.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Neal. Not a single thing goes right for him until the very end.
    • Del, though he's more optimistic about it.
  • The Cameo:
    • First, Kevin Bacon competes with Neal for a taxicab.
    • Then there are three actors who appeared in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Lyman Ward (Ferris' father) is Neal's coworker who predicts that he'll never make the 6 o'clock flight from New York. Ben Stein ("Bueller? Bueller?") is the Wichita airport rep who announces the cancellation of all flights to Chicago... and smiles. Finally, Edie McClurg (Principal Rooney's secretary) is the car-rental clerk who has to endure Neal's F-bomb rant.
    • Michael McKean (This is Spın̈al Tap) is the state trooper who pulls them over.
  • Car Meets House: The two back their burned-out car into the motel room wall, then quickly flee.
  • The Cat Came Back: No matter what he might do or how hard he might try to distance himself, Neal will inevitably run into Del again. Towards the end, he just accepts it.
  • Character Development:
    • During his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Del, Neal acts out a sarcastic introduction between his wife and Del ("Oh, and here's a gun so you can blow your brains out! You'll thank me for it!"). In the end, after all the trouble they've faced together and learning that Del's a homeless drifter, Neal actually introduces them and it's sincere all around.
    • While on the plane, Neal tries to brush off Del by saying that he's not one for conversation with strangers. Later, when he's on the train, he tries to strike up a friendly conversation with the woman in the seat next to him.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Neal's passive-aggressive rant, which contains just about every variation on the word "fuck" to the car-rental clerk, who replies with a laser-guided precision F-nuke.
  • Comedic Work, Serious Scene: For a comedy-of-errors film about the misadventures of two strangers working together to make it home for Thanksgiving, the reveal toward the end that Del is a widower is a real downer, especially when flashing back to his, "My wife likes me" during his earlier rebuttal of a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Neal.
    Del: 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Several instances, most notably when Del is warned by a driver on the parallel highway that he's going the wrong way and is set to make a head-on collision:
    Del:: They're drunk. How would they know where we're going?
  • Con Man: Del manages to make money selling shower curtain rings to random strangers by making all sorts of fanciful claims about his product, such as their being filled with helium to make them light, and telling several teenage girls that his shower curtain rings were once earrings worn by Cleopatra. He also "borrows" Neal's credit card after they part company at the bus station.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Dear God, poor Neal! From cancelled plane flights, to broken down trains, to burned down and wrecked cars, to stolen money, to various near-death experiences and to awkward hotel nights, he certainly earns a medal for being a modern day equivalent to Job! Speaking of which, given his current demeanor and world-views, perhaps all of this was intended to help him open up more.
  • Dead All Along: Del's wife, Marie. Del revealing this is the movie's biggest Wham Line.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Odd Couple trope. Neal has no choice but to cooperate with Del because of how resourceful Del is and any time he tries to strike out on his own, things get much, much worse. He also doesn't wait until the third act to tell Del what a pain in the ass he can be, which makes Del more self-conscious of his behavior so he'll go easier on Neal throughout their journey while also telling him point blank that he has no choice but to learn to love him. The whole thing makes the Teeth-Clenched Teamwork more believable.
  • The Determinator: No matter what the world throws at him, Neal WILL get home in time for Thanksgiving with his family!
  • Didn't Think This Through: Del has a moment of this in the Wichita motel room:
    Del: I had no idea those beer cans were gonna blow like that.
    Neal: You left 'em on a vibrating bed, what did you think was going to happen?
    Del: It just didn't occur to me.
    Neal: It didn't occur to you, so I have to sleep in a puddle of beer.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Del references this when Neal explodes when Del is clearing his sinuses, by asking him indignantly, "If your kid spills his milk, do you slap him in the head?"
  • Dramatic Irony: After Neal's wife falls asleep while watching TV, we hear a news report that the air traffic at the airport Neal was flying out of has cleared up, meaning he could have gotten home a few hours late instead of two days had he just been patient.
  • Dramedy: The film starts out as a broadly rollicking comedy, but evolves into this as it progresses.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Inverted on the last night. Delving into Del's extensive collection of airline liquors, the men get drunk to reflect on their disastrous journey. But they both enjoy genuine fellowship and have a great time.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After suffering just about every transportation setback possible, Neal makes it home for Thanksgiving dinner and brings Del with him so the latter can have a real Thanksgiving for the first time since his wife's death.
  • Epic Fail: The movie is an expansive assortment of these.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Neal's first appearance on screen has him checking his watch while in a high-class business meeting at a fancy office complex in Manhattan, then glancing at a couple of airplane tickets in front of him. Right away, this tells us all three things we need to know about him: one, he's rich; two, he's impatient; and three, he values his time with his family.
    • Before we even see Del, Neal trips over his trunk while trying to get a cab. When we finally do see him, we see he's an otherwise friendly guy, offering to make it up to Neal by buying him a hot dog and a beer, which Neal politely declines. This tells us that Del, despite his best efforts, has a tendency to be burdensome.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Toward the end, when Neal has his realization about Del at the metro.
  • Everyone Has Standards: As (justifiably) sick of Del as he is, Neal isn't so callous that he'd let a man die of hypothermia in the burned remains of a car during a snowstorm.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over the course of roughly 48 hours.
  • Family of Choice: By the end of the movie, Neal has adopted Del.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Neal and Del, by the end of the movie.
  • Fisticuff-Provoking Comment: An aggravated Neal delivers one to a St. Louis cab dispatcher.
    Cab Dispatcher: Where are you going?
    Neal: Chicago.
    Cab Dispatcher: Chicago?
    Neal: Yeah, Chicago.
    Cab Dispatcher: You know you're in St. Louis?
    Neal: Yes I do.
    Cab Dispatcher: Why don't you try the airlines? It's faster and you get a free meal.
    Neal: If I wanted a joke, I'd follow you into the john and watch you take a leak. Now are you gonna help me or are you gonna stand there like a slab of meat with mittens?
    [Cab dispatcher punches him in the face]
  • Flashback-Montage Realization: As Neal is finally heading home, he starts thinking about Thanksgiving dinner with his family, which segues into thinking about his time with Del Griffith over the previous two days, specifically remembering a cryptic comment Del made: "I haven't been home in years...". Neal suddenly realizes the truth about Del, and he returns to the train station to confront Del, who confesses he's been a homeless drifter since his wife Marie died 8 years earlier.
  • Foreshadowing: Quite a bit of it involving Del...
    • Take a close look at the stickers on Del's luggage. They're all just from hotels.
    • The address on Del's luggage is to the company he works for, rather than a proper home address.
    • "First thing you did when you we landed? You called home. I called a hotel."
    • Whenever Del takes his shoes off, he lets out a pleasurable moan. Hilarious, until you discover he’s been homeless for nigh on eight years.
    • The scene where Del washes his socks and underwear in the hotel bathroom sink is played for laughs as part of his generally slovenly nature. However, Del's main reason for dealing with laundry in this rather repulsive way is that he has no home, has very little money, and lives on the road from one motel room to the next.
    • Del's personal motto is "Like your work, love your wife." After the plane fails to make it through to Chicago, while Neal calls his wife, Del calls a hotel.
    • Look at Del's photograph of Marie. Doesn't it look like a headshot picture you'd have at a funeral?
    • "I haven't been home in years."
    • The face he makes when Neal says he's lucky to have a wife to grow old with.
    • Before that, when Del is sitting by himself in the burned-out car, he wishes that Marie was with him:
      Del: But I guess that's not going to happen. Not now, anyway.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: All of the medicine Del puts on the hotel bathroom sink are bowel and/or gas related.
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The film ends with a freeze frame shot on Del's smiling face.
  • Friendship Moment: Neal finally relents and invites Del in out of the cold. They share the minibar and talk about how much they love their wives.
    Neal: Why do I feel like I'm at summer camp?
  • From Bad to Worse: After Neal misses his cab at the start, everything goes downhill. And THAT MEANS EVERYTHING.
  • Gentle Giant: Del Griffith is a big, corpulent man who towers over those around him, but has a heart of gold.
  • Gleeful and Grumpy Pairing: Del and Neal are this, though we eventually find out that Del's "gleeful" is mostly the outward facade of a sad and troubled man, while Neal's grumpiness is mostly justified given all of the mishaps he's endured (including nearly being run over and killed a couple of times).
  • Groin Attack: Happens to Neal in St. Louis.
    Del: I don't think I've ever seen a guy picked up by his testicles before...
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Neal and Del have a couple of moments of gay panic their first night together. When they first arrive at the hotel, Del asks Neal if he wants to shower, to which Neal impulsively replies "No!" before Del reassures him that he meant does Neal want to shower before him, adding, with a laugh, "What do you take me for?" After they wake up in each other's arms following their night of bonding, they make sure to assert their non-attraction to one another by puffing themselves up and discussing football with each other in noticeably deep voices.
  • Have We Met?: Del encounters Neal at LaGuardia and is sure he recognizes him from somewhere. (He'd stolen Neal's cab earlier.) Punctuated by an Imagine Spot of Del, still in the airport, but with the taxi door in front of him making the same surprised look.
  • Hidden Depths: Del, and how. He finally reveals to Neal at the end that he is a homeless drifter, and his wife's been dead for eight years.
  • Hurrying Home for the Holidays: Neal is trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving.
  • Hypocrite: Played for laughs initially, but later on it's revealed that Del does realize that he's quite aware that he's talking about his own personality flaws:
    Del:... You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn't know when to keep his big trap shut...
  • I Am What I Am: Del rebuts Neal's "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Del: 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.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine:
    • Although they didn't share any scenes together, Martin and Candy previously worked together in Little Shop of Horrors, Martin as Orin Scrivello, the abusive dentist boyfriend of Audrey, and Candy as Wink Wilkinson, a radio disc jockey who interviews Seymour.
    • Likewise, although they didn't share any scenes together here or previously, Lyman Ward, who played one of Neal's co-workers, Ben Stein, who played the Wichita airport representative, and Edie McClurg, who played the car rental agent, all previously worked together in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ward as Ferris' father, Tom Bueller, Stein as Ferris and Cameron's economics teacher, and McClurg as Ed Rooney's secretary, Grace.
  • If I Wanted X, I Would Y: "If I wanted a joke, I'd follow you into the john and watch you take a leak."
  • Imagine Spot: Two from Neal involving Del:
    • The first is Neal seeing Del and imagining him making the same surprised look as he did when they first saw each other, but with the airport still in the background.
    • The second is on the freeway when their car drives the wrong way between two trucks and Neal sees Del as the Devil doing an Evil Laugh.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: A nonverbal example during Neal and Del's argument on their first night together. When Neal tells Del that his stories are boring, Del stops arguing back for a good minute and starts breathing more heavily, as if he's about to cry as Neal tears into him. The implication is that Neal went too far by making the argument personal. Even after Neal stops yelling, it takes Del a few seconds to collect his thoughts and give his famous response.
  • Jerkass: Neal; he starts the film as incredibly cynical, rude, quick to anger and overall unsociable, however, his time spent with Del over the three days it takes to get home does him a WORLD of good, and he's much better by the end of the journey!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Neal may not express himself in the most diplomatic way, but when he snaps at people he usually has a good reason to be angry:
    • Neal's comments to Del in the motel room are intentionally cruel and hurtful. However, for all his friendly demeanor and kindness, Del is indeed an obnoxious slob who doesn't know when to shut up or when to leave somebody else alone.
    • Although it's considered incredibly rude to cuss out an employee, Neal's anger towards the rental agent isn't entirely unjustified, as she was on the phone having personal conversations during working hours, not to mention that the rental car company left him without a car.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Neal's uptight and can be standoffish, 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 and grows to eventually like Del.
    • Del, meanwhile, is a slob with implied body odor problems, and is well aware of his problem with taking cues from people who aren't in the mood to be sociable. Furthermore, he isn't above morally questionable behavior such as "borrowing" Neal's credit card. However, while traveling with him may not always be pleasant, he has a big heart and is still the friendliest, most helpful, not to mention resourceful, guy you could ever hope to meet (not unlike the actor portraying him was said to have been).
  • Karma Houdini: The thief who steals Neal and Del's cash never appears again.
  • Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy: Part of Del's shtick is that he's sold shower curtain rings to half the midwest.
  • Leitmotif: A particular motif (that mostly uses a harmonica) plays on almost every scene where another problem occurs that impedes Neal from getting home (the train stopping and the rented car not existing are the most prominent spots where this shows up)
  • Lower-Class Lout: Part of the movie's conflict is between Del, who won't shut up and is willing to take his shoes and socks off in coach, and Neal, an executive who expects to fly first class and hates Del's boorish behavior.
  • Mathematician's Answer: During the "driving in the wrong direction on the Interstate" scene.
    Neal: He says we're going the wrong way.
    Del: Oh, he's drunk. How would he know where we're going?
  • Meaningful Echo: Literally. Neal recalls Del's earlier line, "I haven't been home in years" and it echoes in his head as he comes to a "Eureka!" Moment and realises the truth about Del.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Racing for a cab comes complete with Spaghetti Western stare-down and rock music.
  • My Car Hates Me: Del in spades. Both as a passenger fiddling with the car seat and again while driving the Le Baron.
  • Nice Guy: While traveling with Del is not at all the most pleasant experience, he is definitely one of the most generous and resourceful people you could ever meet.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Del is particularly polite towards service workers, sometimes to a fault, such as with the Wichita taxi driver who aimlessly drives them around. This becomes heartbreaking once it's revealed that Del's a homeless drifter, so they're the nearest thing he has to friends or neighbors.
  • No Antagonist: Neal and Del are flawed characters who get on each other's nerves but neither one is a villain. The nearest thing there is to an antagonist is the travel industry itself.
  • No Sympathy: Outside of Del, no one really shows Neal much sympathy at all. The worst offenders are the people at Marathon, especially the cab dispatcher (although Neal gratuitously insulting the guy just for attempting a good-natured joke didn't help much).
  • Odd Couple: Prissy, uptight Neal and cheerful, slobby Del.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Neal in Wichita when he hears he and Del will have to share a room. The last room in the complex.
    • Neal in St. Louis when he realises the cab dispatcher is about to grab him where it hurts.
    • Neal on the highway when he finally realises they are driving on the wrong side. And then again when the two trucks appear.
    • Neal yet again, when Del reveals that he put the Diner's Card back in Neal's wallet. The wallet currently being incinerated in the glove box.
      • Bonus points when he realizes this was the only non-token method of payment the men had left between them.
  • Pet the Dog: An early sign of Neal becoming more friendly towards Del is when he walks over to help Del drag his massive traveling chest across the cornfield after the train engine breaks down. He shakes his head in disbelief just before doing so as if to say "why the hell am I still stuck with this guy?"
  • Plane Awful Flight: Any enmity that Neal Page obtained from having Del Griffith stealing his cab and almost making him miss his plane only gets exacerbated when he has to sit right next to Del in the plane and Del turns out to be incredibly annoying (talks a lot, almost sleeps on him and it's implied he has an odor problem), on top of lousy food and O'Hare Airport closing down because of a blizzard (which means that Neal is forced to find a way to get home from Kansas).
  • Planes, Trains, and Imbeciles: Trope Namer via Pun, as it seems as though the entire travel industry is out to get Neal and Del.
  • Precision F-Strike: Made even more effective by the fact that it's after the subject endured a Cluster F-Bomb - and it's delivered by Edie McClurg of all people.
    Neal: "Oh boy" what?
    Car Rental Lady: You're fucked.
  • "Psycho" Strings:
    Del: Hey, Neal, take my socks out of the sink if you're going to brush your teeth.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: "You're messin' with the wrong guy!"
  • Rage Breaking Point: When the rental car that was booked for Neal is missing, is the point where he can no longer stand any further setbacks. Unfortunately these outbursts make the disgruntled workers he bumps into even less inclined to get him home in time for Thanksgiving.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: After learning the truth about Del's unfortunate and lonely life, Neal finally makes it home and invites Del to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family. Del is obviously moved by Neal's kindness and is happy to be with his friend, with the film suggesting that things might start to turn around for him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Neal gives a very harsh (though funny) one to Del during their first night together.
    Neal: You're no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room, and someone who'll listen to your boring stories. I mean, 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 "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. Woah." 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!
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Neal is blue and Del is red. But when they are fighting, they switch.
  • Road Trip Plot: Neal and Del trying to get to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving.
  • Rule of Symbolism: One can say Del's massive trunk represents the eight years of sadness, pain, and loneliness, he's been carrying around since Marie passed away. He struggles to shift it alone. When Neal is helping him move it, either out of sympathy or compassion as a newfound friend, the load is no longer heavy and they manage it easily.
  • Running Gag: A rather dark one. Neal comes close to being run over while lying flat on the road at least three times during the film: first when trying to catch a taxi in New York, the second when trying to get back from the rental car lot to the airport, and the third time when the taxi dispatcher punches him out.
  • Sad Clown: Behind his outward persona of a cheerful dolt who loves to tell boring anecdotes and lame jokes, Del is a deeply unhappy and lonely man. Not just because it is revealed his wife is dead and he is alone and homeless, but he's subjected to just as many travel catastrophes as Neal, although he deals with it with good humor.
  • Sanity Slippage: Neal goes through a little bit. Summed up when he phones his wife.
    Susan: You shared a motel room with a complete stranger? Are you crazy?
    Neal: Not yet. But I'm getting there.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The movie Mrs. Page watches on TV early on in the film is actually John Hughes' next film She's Having a Baby, combining this with Production Foreshadowing.
      Kristi: She's sleeping in our HOUSE!!! I'll have to burn the sheets!
      Jake: What if the shoe was on the other foot?
      Kristi: I'D GO BAREFOOT!!
    • The movie's poster is framed to resemble the 1954 Norman Rockwell painting Breaking Home Ties.
    • Del's rental car looks like a smaller version of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
    • Del leads a busful of people in chanting along to the theme song for The Flintstones.
  • A Simple Plan: For God's sake, Neal just wants to get home for Thanksgiving.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: The couple making out on the bus to St. Louis are seen smoking afterward.
  • Someone's Touching My Butt: "Those aren't pillows!!"
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: While greeting his hotel clerk friend, Del drops a classic "dad" joke that he's "a million bucks short of being a millionaire," meant to illustrate just how uncool he is. Thanks to John Candy's jovial reading of the line, however, it's considered by many fans as one of the funniest in the movie.
  • Spotting the Thread: On the train ride back home, Neal reminisces on the ordeal he's finally putting behind him and thinks back over some of the things Del fondly said about his wife and his home. It only clicks that something is off when he recalls Del also casually saying "I haven't been home in years."
  • The Stinger: After the credits Neal's company's client is still at his desk analyzing the ads, his Thanksgiving dinner sitting uneaten on his desk.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • When the state trooper tells Del that the burned-up rental car will have to be impounded, he tells the trooper that if he isn't allowed to keep the car, he won't be able to get Neal home for Thanksgiving on time. Neal has a hopeful look and the trooper seems friendly enough. The next scene cuts to a tow truck impounding the burned-up car.
    • A lesser example is when Del, seeing that Neal could get a motel room for about half the cost of rent plus his expensive watch, offers the motel clerk a couple of dollars and a cheap watch hoping for the same result. The clerk (politely) declines Del's offer. The next scene is Del sitting in the burned remains of his rental car on a snowy night, with no windows or roof.
  • Talking to the Dead: Del with his late wife Marie.
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Del gets both arms stuck while driving down the highway and it doesn't occur to him until he's just about to run into something that maybe he should hit the breaks. Then he gets back back on the highway, on the wrong side of the road.
    • Even before this, we see Del paying no attention to the road as he listens to Ray Charles Mess Around on the radio. He's too busy playing an imaginary saxophone and later an imaginary keyboard on the dashboard to be bothered with safe driving. This is also the moment when his flicked cigarette starts smoldering in the back seat.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Neal growing to like Del (warts and all), and inviting him for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Neal and Del gradually evolve from Teeth-Clenched Teamwork (Del likes Neal, Neal detests Del) to actual friendship as Neal warms to Del and undergoes Character Development.
  • 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. He also almost never laces up his boots, making him look much more sloppy.
  • Wham Line:
    • For what started out as a light buddy comedy, this one packs an unexpectedly huge wallop:
      Del: I don't have a home. Marie's been dead for eight years.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Neal could have easily stayed on his train and never thought of Del again when he realizes Del may be all alone for the holiday. Instead, he takes the opposite train back to the Chicago station to confirm his suspicion and brings Del home with him once he finds out it's true.
  • Wild Take: When the duo's car ends up scraping between two semis at freeway speed, they briefly turn into google-eyed skeletons.


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Del gives Neil a piece of his mind and how much he has accepted being himself.

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