Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is founded on the essential natures of its actors. It is perfectly cast and soundly constructed, and all else flows naturally. Steve Martin and John Candy don’t play characters; they embody themselves. That’s why the comedy, which begins securely planted in the twin genres of the road movie and the buddy picture, is able to reveal so much heart and truth.
Some movies are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. When “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” was released in 1987, I enjoyed it immensely, gave it a favorable review and moved on. But the movie continued to live in my memory. Like certain other popular entertainments (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Casablanca”) it not only contained a universal theme, but also matched it with the right actors and story, so that it shrugged off the other movies of its kind and stood above them in a kind of perfection. This is the only movie our family watches as a custom, most every Thanksgiving.