It's not a secret that John Hughes is one of my heroes when it comes to writing. I'm not sure if I know any other screenwriter who has been able to create as many memorable and relatable characters as he did.
In my opinion, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the best examples, if not the best, on how to create likable, relatable characters. Both Steve Martin and John Candy really shine in this movie. It's their brightest hour (and 25 minutes).
The movie's storytelling is based on kindness - and yet the characters in the movie aren't nice all the time. In fact, this Steve Martin & John Candy vehicle is especially famous for its scenes where the characters don't act nice at all.
There's for example the confrontantion in the motel room, where Martin & Candy say awful things to each other. They both really get to the bottom of it and don't watch what they're saying. It's just brutal.
There's also the famous scene at the car rental where Martin's character Neal Page goes on an epic tirade in which he mostly uses the f word. The way he treats the chirpy customer service worker is mindboggling.
Based on these two scenes only, you wouldn't think that Plains, Trains & Automobiles could be a heartwarming movie. Nevertheless, it manages to be one and that's because the writer-director John Hughes knew what he was doing.
That is that already in the first scene that we see in the movie, the audience really identifies with the main character. When we see Steve Martin in the congress room, stuck in the meeting, one can't help but to think that we know exactly what he's going through.
The same goes also for us seeing John Candy's character when he apologizes for 'stealing' the cab. In order to make up for his mistake, he wants to provide Martin's character squishies, slurpies and stuff. Save the cat moment, I guess.
From the very beginning, the movie get its right, and the first scene is one of the best opening scenes in the history of movies. It's elegant in its simplicity, but it's also absolutely hilarious in an understated way. It gets the movie going.
I guess the movie isn't perfect, but yet in so many ways it's amazing that it's possible to create an experience like Planes, Trains & Automobiles, a film, that at the same time manages to be not only funny, but also honest and sad.
There are so many things to learn from it - but if there's one thing above others, it is that if you can create characters as immediately relatable as John Hughes did here, then pretty much anything is possible.
Anyway, here's the opening scene.. ..and the rest of the film too. I never seem to get tired of watching this wonderful, kind movie.