“Planes Trains and Automobiles,” a 1987 comedy starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy, offers a surprisingly touching message about giving thanks.


One of my favorite moments in Shakespeare is when Romeo goes running to Friar Lawrence after a whole lot of stuff has hit the fan. His best friend Mercutio is dead, and his archenemy Tybalt lies bleeding to death on a Verona street from Romeo’s own hand. The kid is in full panic and self-centered angst. It is then that Friar Lawrence, like any good priest, snaps him out of it with a little tough love, informing Romeo — to his amazement — that things are not as bad as they may appear. He does so with a line we would all benefit from committing to memory: “A pack of blessings light upon thy back, happiness courts thee in her best array.”

Granted, I don’t know how well I would have taken this advice if I were in Romeo’s tights, but, as with so much Shakespeare, the truth of our existence shines through. Whether God is putting a feather or an anvil upon our own shoulders, Shakespeare’s advice is worth following. Only a few characters in Shakespeare or any other art form seem to follow it.

All great literature, and most of Shakespeare’s plays, are about individuals not believing blessings have been placed upon their backs. Hamlet cannot see that a beautiful and devoted woman only wants to love him. But his obsession with his father’s ghost drives this young lady to suicide. Of course, if he did see Ophelia’s love in the right context, he would have snapped out of it, started wearing more colorful clothing and the play would have been three hours shorter.

Whether it’s movies or television, Broadway stage or community theater in Pico Rivera, conflict and a distinct lack of thankfulness is what makes popular and even classical entertainment go around. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s drama or comedy. Comedy especially is devoid of thankfulness, because at its core are characters with extreme hubris or some other personality defect that prevents them from seeing the trees, let alone any forests of good fortune.

Even Scripture is not immune from glaring examples of ingratitude. For example, Jesus’ thankfulness failure rate among 10 lepers was a whopping 90 percent.

This is probably why, and I looked, there are so few Thanksgiving Day themed movies or television programs. They do exist, but not in the quantity that Christmas movies and television shows exist. The caveat with “Christmas” movies though is that so many of them have little to nothing to do with Christmas. The number one pop culture culprit here is the Hallmark Channel. It has turned into a veritable sweat shop when it comes to Christmas movies — churning out formulaic feel-good movies the way Corsicana Texas churns out fruitcakes. For the record, Corsicana Texas is the fruitcake capital of the world, as if the world needed a ground zero for such a thing. And if I see one more Hallmark Channel Christmas movie about a young city dwelling professional woman finding herself stuck in a small town where she is going to fall in love with the handsome widower police chief and his precocious son or daughter, as a bumbling ghost seen only by her, watches on approvingly, I may actually eat one of those fruitcakes and put myself out of my misery.

But as I embrace the Church’s teaching on suicide, I instead went looking for a blessing and a Thanksgiving Day movie or TV special worth celebrating … and I rediscovered one.

“Planes Trains and Automobiles” starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy is a lot of movies rolled into one — comedy, buddy picture, road picture and, in the end, unabashedly sentimental. Most important of all, it’s all about the main character Steve Martin working though intense frustration and anger and coming to a point of true thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God has given him. His character may not say it overtly, but if we believe that all good things come from God, then the hearth and home and healthy family Steve Martin eventually returns to counts.

The movie has been out a long time, so no need for spoiler alert, but I must alert readers to one particular non-family-friendly scene with a very bad word uttered over and over and over. That little detour into obscenity aside, I dare anyone to be unmoved when Steve Martin’s character finally realizes his chance encounter with this odd man who sells shower curtain rings was, in reality, a blessing laid upon his back.