Have a Point: Steve Martin and John Candy Help Us See Ourselves

Planes_trains_and_automobilesThe late actor John Candy has given us some of the most endearing talkative characters in comedy. Candy had a wonderful way of rendering his subjects as so annoying tha we know we’d probably avoid them if we met them in real life. Yet Candy could gradually reveal a humble, heart-of-gold side of the men he played, the side we often miss in certain souls whose constant talk grates on us despite the hope we harbor that others will understand when our own chattiness gets the better of us.  Candy helps me face this side of myself.

In the 1987 John Hughes film Trains, Planes and Automobileswe meet Candy as Dell Griffith, a gregarious shower curtain ring salesman fated to accompany Neal Page, a persnickety marketing executive played by Steve Martin on a hilarious mishap-filled attempt to get Page home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here’s the scene where the two wind up seated together on a plane soon to be grounded due to severe weather.  Martin (as Page) obviously wishes to be left alone, but the talkative, crude Candy (as Griffith) is blissfully unaware of his seatmate’s signals.

Through each disaster the two suffer as they make their way from New York to Chicago, Page stuffs his resentment behind a courteous mask and then jabs with cruel accusations when he’s had his fill of Griffith.  He teaches me to watch my own resentment, knowing how often I’ve regretted the way I’ve snapped at others because I tried for too long to be “nice” on my own strength, without relying on the love of God. Page finally explodes with a vicious tirade in the famous scene where he calls Griffith a Chatty Cathy doll pulling his own string over and over and over.  In a vicious, unbridled rant, he advises Griffith to discriminate among stories before opening his mouth.  These seven seconds sum it all up:

But that’s not the end of the story.  The film concludes when Page, finally alone on a train bound for his comfortable home, suddenly realizes Griffith has no home and no Thanksgiving dinner.

In remorse and compassion, Page goes back, finds the chatty shower curtain ring salesman and invites him to share Thanksgiving with his own family.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which holds up well even after 30 years, invites us to love our neighbors no matter how annoying we find them, to forgive their weaknesses and even to forgive ourselves, because none of us is perfect, and we’re in this struggle together.


This post is part of a series (see Invitation from a Babbling Brook: Focus on Speech and Silence).  Follow Sparrowfare to receive new posts by email.  Please share Sparrowfare. In this contentious time, let’s spread the word about the importance of our words.

Featured photo by Maria Molinero on Unsplash.