Should I Watch..? Home Alone
What's the big deal?
Home Alone is a comedic family film released in 1990 and was written and produced by the great John Hughes. The film stars Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a young boy who is left home alone when his parents fly to Paris for their Christmas holiday. While Kevin initially enjoys his freedom, he quickly changes his mind when two inept burglars threaten to break in and rob the place. The film was a massive smash hit worldwide, going on to take over $476 million and it remained the highest grossing live-action comedy in the world until The Hangover Part II claimed the title. The film has so far spawned four sequels although none of the original cast returned after Home Alone 2: Lost In New York in 1992.
What's it about?
After an argument with his older brother Buzz the night before their family jets off to Paris for Christmas, Kevin McCallister is sent to his room and wishes that his family would all just disappear. During the night, power lines are brought down which resets all the alarm clocks in the house. Consequently everyone oversleeps and in the panicked dash to the airport, Kevin is left behind. As soon as this is discovered, his mother Kate immediately tries to return to Chicago but is unable to get any closer than Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Kevin, meanwhile, wakes up back at the family home and thinks that his wish came true. Loving his new-found freedom, Kevin immediately does everything he was never allowed to do - eat whatever he wants, stay up late and watch grown-up movies like "Angels With Filthy Souls". His lonesome existence is soon threatened, however, when he is scared by the mean neighbour Old Man Marley and worse, two burglars named Harry and Marv arrive and target the McCallister household. It soon falls to Kevin to defend the house the only way he knows how...
Old Man Marley
Release Date (UK)
7th December, 1990
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Score, Best Original Song ("Somewhere In My Memory")
What's to like?
What it lacks in traditional Christmas spirit, Home Alone more than makes up for it with sheer fun. What ten-year-old boy hasn't dreamt of having the family home all to themselves and setting up elaborate booby traps for the unwary? Come the riotous finale and the final assault on the McCallister house, you'll have forgotten everything else which is a shame. The movie isn't a kid's version of Christmas action flick Die Hard that focuses exclusively on action - it takes the time to show us Culkin repeatedly get the better of dumb adults but also learn the importance of family as well as not judging books by their covers.
Culkin understandably grabs the centre of attention as Kevin and delivers an extremely controlled performance, to the point where it doesn't really feel natural. The same can said for Pesci and Stern who make an excellent odd couple but have levels of intelligence that only burglars in a kid's movie would actually possess. Far better is O'Hara as the desperate parent struggling to keep her emotions in check as she battles her way back home again. Personally, her performance is the most realistic thing about the entire picture although even I doubt she would have spent so much time in the back of that van with Candy's assorted polka players.
- Pesci deliberately kept out of the way of Culkin on-set because he wanted Culkin to think he was mean. During rehearsals for the finger biting scene, Pesci actually bit Culkin's finger and left a scar.
- Pesci kept forgetting that he was shooting a family picture and kept swearing during his on-screen outbursts. Director Columbus had to tell him to say "fridge" instead of the F-word.
- There is a rumour that Elvis Presley, despite dying in 1977, made a cameo in the film. Those who believe the King still lives maintain that the bearded man behind O'Hara at the airport check-in desk (before she meets Candy) is the man himself.
What's not to like?
It's worth remembering that a film like Home Alone is probably meant more for kids than it is for adult, although even grown-ups will get a kick out of the climatic showdown. The film isn't meant to be taken seriously or even feel that plausible - certainly, there's no way Kevin could pull off the various traps he sets without the help of an entire army of special effects technicians and several thousand dollars worth of equipment conveniently laying around. And while I'm writing about Kevin, there's no getting away from the fact that the kid is a precocious, smart-aleck little brat who is actually pretty unlikable. If I were Buzz, I'd have locked Kevin in his room myself.
Home Alone has received some flack over the years for its excessive use of violence, particularly in the showdown where Harry and Marv would have either been seriously injured, if not killed outright. But I'm prepared to ignore these accusations for three reasons. One: it's Christmas. Two: the violence is a lot less graphic and brutal than the sequel where our two unfortunate thieves would suffer levels of brutality that would make a prison warden blush. And three: the violence in the film is perfectly in keeping with the cartoony feel of the picture in general. The film feels more like a live-action version of Tom & Jerry and I don't hear many people complaining that the excessive violence in those cartoons. Or if they do, I shake my head in despair and wonder why these people have so much time on their hands.
Should I watch it?
Of course you should although make sure you get your kids to tidy their rooms afterwards because they'll be planning traps the minute the film finishes. Home Alone is what a good family film should be all about - entertaining adults and kids with a healthy splash of preaching and a healthy dollop of Christmas schmaltz on top. The result is an intoxicating and entertaining festive flick for the whole family, despite being as calculated and formulaic as a winner of one of Simon Cowell's jumped-up talent shows.
Great For: collectors of Micro Machines, Christmas holidays, younger siblings
Not So Great For: mischievous children, the easily offended, wealthy Chicagoan families
What else should I watch?
Bearing in mind that most viewers of Home Alone will only recall the last thirty minutes or so, they won't be too surprised to find that the sequels don't stray too far from the formula. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that this first film is the best of the lot and by some margin as well. Even Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is surprisingly inferior compared to this first film, despite recalling most of the main actors and even retaining the script to such an extant that you can watch the first film and simply replace the words "Chicago" and "Old Man Marley" with "New York" and "strange pigeon lady in Central Park".
For anyone worried that their precious little darlings are immediately going to start throwing paint cans from the top of the stairs, there are other festive movies which will surely get your seal of approval. Will Ferrell delivers arguably the performance of his career in Elf which sees his giant frame raised by elves at Santa's grotto and then head to New York in an attempt to bond with his real father. The Polar Express is an innovative but somewhat cold animation which will excite and enthral younger viewers with ease while traditionalists can always rely on It's A Wonderful Life which still remains the definitive Christmas movie.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox