When I was growing up, there didn’t seem to be many Thanksgiving movies. There was a few and over the years, they’ve become a mainstay for me to watch each year during this time. One of those movies is Dutch.
Dutch is a 1991 road trip comedy and was written by the late John Hughes. Arguably one of the greatest screenplay writers through the 80s and 90s. I bring this up because this is at the tail end of Hughes writing good scripts. It’s basically all downhill from here. He did have a few gems though to the mid-90s, but that’s about it. In fact, he also wrote and directed Planes, Trains and Automobiles a few years before and one could argue he used the blueprint for that, here.
When it comes to road trip comedies, Dutch doesn’t stray too far from the norms. You have two people, trying to get from point A to point B without dying or killing each other. The movie is pretty much paint by numbers, but offers up some charm of its own. It could have written itself.
JoBeth Williams is the mom, Natalie. She doesn’t have a big part, but still leaves her mark and is a great talent. Christopher McDonald plays her ex-husband, Reed. He’s a horrible asshole that’s rich and holds it over Natalie’s head, along with their son’s affection. McDonald has made a career of playing the bad guy in movies and nothing different here, but at least he’s brilliant at it.
Natalie has a new… friend? Well, that’s how he’s introduced and how he introduces himself, but it’s clear they’re dating, Dutch. He’s played by Ed O’Neill, who is great in this. He’s a working-class, blue-collar kind of guy and he’s not about to take any shit from some snobby rich kid that hates the world. In comes Doyle or Dale? Dwight? Dave? Dutch calls him every name under the sun that starts with D. He’s played by Ethan Embry. He’s a snobby rich kid that hates the world and is going to be a thorn in the side of Dutch.
As average as Dutch is as a movie, it’s not without some great memorable moments. The fireworks, the playing cards, homebound hookers and my favorite, the cot falling apart. I laugh out loud every time. Dutch has a plan, to take a road trip with Doyle so the two can bond and get to know each other. However, Doyle is a prick, to say the least.
The movie sets Doyle up as such an uptight, pompous jerk, that it borders on being over the top. It works though because he loves his dad and looks up to him while blaming his mother for the marriage not working. So it makes sense that he’s a little asshole, just like his dad.
Dutch and Doyle butt heads throughout as you’d expect. Doyle gets a taste of the real world and learns a lot of lessons throughout the trip. As I said, the movie comes off average in terms of a road trip comedy, but the characters are great, that’s the movie’s sweet spot. As the saying goes, if you can’t have a good story, have good characters and if you can’t have good characters, have a good plot.
Dutch doesn’t have a bad story at all, but what it lacks in that department, it makes up for in the characters. Even the side characters that only have a few scenes are great and feel real. There are some real heartfelt moments here too, that mixed with the characters and fun moments makes Dutch stand out from many other movies that play out the same way.
Fun fact: Ed O’Neill and Ethan Embry worked together years later as partners in Dragnet, a TV show remake in the 2000s.
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow US Outposters!