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Home Alone (1990)

by on 2010/12/12

While Home Alone can be seen as a transition for the late auteur John Hughes, it also distills some interesting parts of what has gone before.  It combines the roguish fantasy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with the familial travelogue of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  Layer in the Christmas fixings, and substantial geek-friendly content, and you have all the makings of a holiday classic which has only improved over time.

In an early scene prescient of the miscount in Open Water, eight year old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally abandoned by his family.  As his extended family travels to Paris for a Christmas vacation abroad, he remains in their Chicago home, fending for himself . . . against hunger, fear, loneliness, and two persistent burglars.

If Macaulay Culkin is condemned for being a one-trick pony, at least that trick is best employed for effect here.  His facial expressions and mannerisms have since become cliches, but are undeniably theatrical.  Whether he’s breaking the fourth wall or screaming in surprise, I find him oddly less off-putting now than when I was nearer to Kevin’s age.

And if his uppity attitude continues in ruffling anyone, you might forgive him, given the ways of his family.  For me the story’s least-appealing quality is the way they interact.  I suppose it’s meant to contrast with their eventual change of heart.  Still, any parent who tolerates their child being dismissed as “a disease” or “little jerk” is doing something arguably worse than leaving their child alone.

The unforgiving role of Kevin’s mother is ably handled by Catherine O’Hara (a frequent player in the films of Christopher Guest).  She enjoys a mini-SCTV reunion of sorts with the inclusion of John Candy (Uncle Buck) as Gus Polinski, the “polka king of the midwest”.

The antagonists terrorizing Kevin are played by Joe Pesci (especially unnerving if you’ve seen him in Goodfellas) and Daniel Stern (whose comic timing here was a minor revelation).  Roberts Blossom (Quick and the Dead) adds distinction to the cast as Old Man Marley, in a score-raising subplot of accidents and forgiveness.

Having seen it in my (relative) youth, my overriding memory was of a Rube Goldberg Looney Tune.  This viewing, however, reminded me of other less well-known appeals.  Beyond the usual visceral impact of spiked steps and broken glass, Home Alone surprised me with its many smaller moments.

As a materialist and homeowner, the idea of the “wet bandits” was strangely infuriating, and had me rooting all the more for our hero.  The scene where Pesci’s hand is burned recalled Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The reunion of O’Hara and Candy had me giggling in delight.  Comparatively Blossom’s scenes were blindsidingly poignant.

Home Alone reminded me of other series too.  An obvious tip of the hat comes in the faux WB gangster movie, Angels with Filthy Souls.  I was also reminded of the Harry Potter series by John Williams’ Nutcracker-like score, if not Chris Columbus’ direction.  The repeated statue collisions recalled Frank Drebin’s Police Squad! parking, and the Miracle on 34th Street (1947) clip anticipates Hughes’ own remake, a mere four years away.

It’s easy to dismiss this piece, comparing it unfavorably with longer-standing holiday favourites like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and even A Christmas Story.  It’s just as important, however, to recall that a lack of success befell them all in their original releases.  Home Alone, while financially rewarded, has nonetheless been criticized for its slapstick violence and star.  For those who grew up watching it, though, it’s a legitimate holiday classic.

* * * *

Rated G but contains swearing and violence

103 minutes

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