When you think of holiday films, it’s not hard to think of countless titles for Christmas and Halloween. Every year we see a countless number of Halloween and Christmas movies seemingly appear out of nowhere in places like Shudder and Hallmark. These are big holidays so it makes sense, but what about the other kinda big one?
Thanksgiving, the holiday we’ve tried to tell ourselves is about stuffing our stomachs with holiday food instead of being a symbol for the systematic genocide of an entire culture of people that it was. Gobble gobble!
While the holiday isn’t practiced elsewhere other than the USA, its hard to deny the iconography the holiday has produced. The turkeys, the pilgrims, and the decorative cornucopias that I swear I have never seen used by anyone anywhere are universally recognizable at this point. With that being said, you may be surprised how little representation Thanksgiving has in the world of Hollywood.
So what is the definitive Thanksgiving film? I’m sure you’ll get a different answer depending on the crowd, but the one I constantly hear brought and the one that I have such an early exposure to is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This movie was always on at my house around the November holiday, and it remained a staple in our traditions even as I’ve gotten older. While the film doesn’t even take place on Thanksgiving until the very end, I feel this film manages to capture the essence of what the holiday means to so many people: gathering with the ones you love and giving thanks for the blessings you’ve been given.
Birthed from the mind of the unchallenged king of 1980s comedy, John Hughes, the film follows Neal Page, a high strung, tight-ass of a man attempting to make it from New York to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving with his wife and kids. Along the way he meets Del Griffith, a chatty shower curtain ring salesman (you’ve read that right) that Neal wants nothing to do with. Through several borderline malicious acts of divine intervention, Neal’s journey home takes some unexpected turns as everything from a blizzard to a robbery turns his simple trip into a three day odyssey. Despite his best efforts, he’s unable to shake Del off of him, and the two join forces on a road trip filled with laughs, tears and 1980s hijinks.
Leading the film are two comedy powerhouses, Steve Martin and the late-great John Candy. Both are equally funny, with Martin doing his best to play the straight man while occasionally erupting into a white-hot ball of fury, with Candy being an eccentric teddy bear that most of us probably wouldn’t mind the company of. These two give one of their all-time best performances both in comedy and emotion. Somehow they retain their relatable humanity while still being over the top, animated characters. It’s a perfect blend that many comedy films trip up on. Their relationship continues to evolve over the course of the story, going from liking to hating each other at the drop of a dime. Both men play off each other so well, with a natural chemistry that easily allows both actors to riff off of one another for maximum comedic effect.
If you’re familiar with Hughes’ past work in the realm of teen comedies and National Lampoon films, you’ll find many instances of his style on display here, from the film’s visuals to the soundtrack. The visual gags are the funniest moments for me, everything from Neal recognizing Del from the cab window at the airport to Neal seeing Del as the Devil while wedged between two oncoming trucks. The soundtrack makes use of sampling previous lines from the film and repeating riffs for comedic effect, similar to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Finally, Hughes wit is at its best here, with Candy and Martin delivering some of their best lines of their career. (“If I wanted a joke, I’d follow you into the john and watch you take a leak.”)
Underneath the sometime cynical and ridiculous humor is plenty of heart, reminding us just how important the relationships we make along the way are. Sometimes it takes going through 3 days of Hell to truly appreciate what you have, and realize that not everyone has the same luxuries like a home or family. What else is there to say about this classic? It’s a feel good story that encapsulates the spirit of the meaning of Thanksgiving that manages to be one of the funniest holiday movies of all time. It’s a shame that there probably won’t be a film like this again with both Hughes and Candy gone, but hopefully comedies will continue to take notes from the genius behind this simple but effective buddy trip movie.
As for the supposed remake, I’m optimistic. I don’t see it being better than the original, but hopefully it will bring attention back to it.
Also, if you have some downtime this holiday season, take the time to learn Del Griffith’s “You Want to Hurt Me?” monologue. It’s perfect to break out to clear the air after politics inadvertently get brought up at your family’s dinner.
A holiday variation of the White Russian! An already delicious cocktail made all the more festive with a sprinkling of both cinnamon and nutmeg, topped off with a gingersnap cookie rim held together by honey! It’s a terrific drink for turkey season, combining the cold creaminess of the impending winter and the welcoming spice of being inside with your friends, family and a tall plate of food.
The Big Lebowski’s The Dude is synonymous with the White Russian cocktail, so I hereby christen this cocktail as The Del, after John Candy‘s character from this film. RIP Mr. Candy.
- 1.5oz Kahlua or similar coffee liqueur
- 1oz vodka
- 1.5oz heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- Garnish: Gingersnap cookie
- Garnish: Honey
- Crush a gingersnap cookie into tiny granulated pieces.
- Rim a rocks glass with honey, then coat the rim with the crushed cookies.
- In a mixing glass, stir together the Kahlua, vodka, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Pour mixture into prepared glass, then top with ice.
- Pour heavy cream on top, then mix to combine.