Alex Wolff’s review published on Letterboxd:
Before Planes, Trains and Automobiles, director John Hughes seemed to be on his way to only making high school films. Don't get me wrong, all his high school films had style and heart but something like Breakfast Club which dealt with a lot of strong issues basically showed Hughes could also move into another genre. In the best way possible, we didn't really expect the classic road trip film like Planes, Trains and Automobiles; the first different type of film he did as a director.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) are traveling from New York to Chicago and are both trying to get home for the holiday. After their flight gets grounded by a Chicago snowstorm that strands Neal and Del in Wichita, Kansas, both go on a crazy journey to try to get home. It is a plot that would be so basic now but when this came out in 1987, it was kind of unique.
As he did with his high school films, Hughes makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles stands out mostly because of characters. Neal is a pretty high level executive who is a slimeball at times but still has a heart somewhere down inside of him. Del talks too much and makes his money by selling shower rings but again like Neal he knows what's for the best. Hughes makes two great characters that can coexist and they don't override each other. Even more so, these are great performances from Martin and Candy.
Nowadays, the road trip genre films struggle with plots that are just too far-fetched. Even though the plot of Planes, Trains and Automobiles might have too much of bad luck in it to be believable, you can still accept it more then most other films of this type. Planes gets grounded every year and people are stranded because we know how bad weather can be around the holidays. People do take buses like Neal and Del did for transportation at one point in the movie. John Hughes basically proves you don't have to be radical and overdo it in a road trip plot.
John Hughes did so many great things in his career and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the quintessential road trip film. Very few road films have come close to it. Even though I liked Uncle Buck which came a few years later, Planes, Trains and Automobiles was probably the last great ride for Hughes as a director.