The 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 we’d probably avoid them if we met them in real life, yet he’d 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 our hope 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 Automobiles, we 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 while making their way from New York to Chicago, Page (Martin’s character) 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. He sarcastically advises Griffith to discriminate among stories before opening his mouth. Here are the seven seconds that 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, realizes Griffith has no home to go to and heroically goes back, finds the 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 A Lenten Invitation from a Babbling Brook: Focus on Speech and Silence). To receive new installments, you’re invited to Follow Sparrowfare by placing your email address in the box in the right sidebar (mobile users will find it below). Please share the posts that speak to you. In this contentious time, let’s spread the word about the importance of our words.