The Singular Charm of John Hughes

(Ethan Gates)– The best Thanksgiving movie ever made, hands down, is John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” with Steve Martin and John Candy. No alternative is acceptable. On the surface it is nothing more than a prototypical odd couple movie: the stuffy white-collar businessman and the crass door-to-door salesman thrown together on a cross-country journey by fate.

But no other director made so much out of the slightest genres like John Hughes. I adored his films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club” when I was a kid, only to become a snobby old fart and dismiss him as the progenitor of the terrible “teen movie” trend that still haunts the cineplex. It was only after Hughes’ death in 2009 that I went back and re-evaluated my opinion of Hughes and his films, realizing that there is a reason that Hughes’ legacy has endured so, why we love “Sixteen Candles” so much more than, say, “I Love You Beth Cooper,” why “Easy A” was so successful by making its homage straightforward and heartfelt. Hughes loved kids and families in exactly the way that today’s commercialized, pre-packaged films don’t: he treated them as people, not customers.

That is why there is a poignancy to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” that is completely missing from, say, “Due Date,” which was nothing less than Todd Phillips’ attempt to completely rip off Hughes’ legacy, pretty much making the exact same film, only substituting John Candy’s lovable lug for Zach Galifianakis’ tiresome man-child. This was sacrilege of the highest order, especially considering how much of Candy poured of his own self into Del Griffith, the shower curtain ring salesman of “Planes:” Del is a man “too eager to please,” just as Candy tragically was himself.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is a movie about lonely souls, and how we can go about fixing them. It’s about the people we love (sometimes against all odds). It’s about learning to not judge people by their appearance or our own selfish standards. I’m not sure if there’s any other director in history who could deliver such a message in so charming, hilarious and, above all, genuine a fashion.

So, as on every Thanksgiving now, I would just like to stop for a moment and give thanks for John Hughes. Rest in peace, John.

Three to Think About: Semi-Acceptable Other Thanksgiving Films

1. Pieces of April (2003)

2. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

3. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)