I’ve been enlisted by Tom at the never-less-than-superb Digital Shortbread to take part in his weekly Throwback Thursday segment. Tom came to me to see if I would like to contribute one half of a double-feature evaluation of that festive favourite Home Alone (1990) and its 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Needless to say, I was honoured to be invited to take part in what’s always a fun and informative feature and delighted to be able to share my thoughts on Home Alone. Make sure to head on over to Tom’s great site (the quality of writing is something else) and check out his thoughts on Home Alone 2. Thanks again Tom!
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Home Alone, right?
As much a festive tradition as roasting chestnuts on an open fire and receiving socks from granny, Chris Columbus’ monster box office hit had a seismic impact on Hollywood and helped to usher in a gamut of family friendly flicks hoping to ride the wave.
The home invasion movie was hardly a new concept, but writer and producer John Hughes sought to lighten up this normally dark sub-genre with a pair of bungling burglars and a protagonist whose early years and cutesy smile disguise a natural aptitude for home security and a hunger for sadistic violence.
The kid in question is eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who’s left to fend for himself in his palatial home after being accidentally left behind by his family when they fly to Paris for a Christmas vacation. While Kevin’s guilt-ridden mom (Catherine O’Hara) tries to get back home by any means necessary, the wee lad goes about protecting his castle from a pair of notorious burglars called the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).
Although Culkin was a known entity to Hughes, having appeared in his 1989 comedy Uncle Buck opposite John Candy (who gets a cameo here as Gus Polinski – ‘the Polka King of the Midwest’), his casting in Home Alone was nevertheless a considerable gamble due to the demands of having to hold the audience’s attention for long periods with no support. It’s a test for any actor to pull this off, but when that performer is a kid the challenge is immense.
Culkin didn’t become the biggest child star since Shirley Temple for nothing, though. With a cherubic all-American face, cheeky attitude and natural on-screen confidence, Culkin is a perfect fit for the role of Kevin. He might not have the acting chops of many of today’s child actors, but when all he’s got to do is put his hands to his face and pull that over-the-top shocked expression now and again (and again) he doesn’t need to worry about it.
The film does a nice job early on of showing how an eight-year-old would probably react when left home alone. When he isn’t tearing around the house and eating big bowls of ice cream Kevin’s making his own entertainment, like sledging down the stairs.
Kevin must soon come to realise, however, just how important family is, especially at Christmas time. After wishing they would all just go away (his brother Buzz calls him a “flem-wad” and, when asked by Kevin if he can sleep in his room, is told: “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass”), he’s soon pining for them. He also learns the importance of not judging books by their covers, especially the slightly odd guy next door who actually turns out to be a kind old man.
Life lessons aside, Home Alone is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon, with Culkin’s mannered performance complementing the Laurel and Hardy shenanigans of Pesci and Stern (it’s hard to believe this came out just a couple of months after Goodfellas, which saw Pesci portray a rather more unhinged bad guy).
The film spends a long time teasing the audience before letting rip with Pesci and Stern’s Wacky Races-esque attempt to catch Kevin (instead of the pigeon) in the final act. Needless to say, it’s the most entertaining part of the film, with a gleeful Kevin parading around as the blundering burglars walk into trap after trap and mutter indiscernible obscenities in the same manner as Dick Dastardly’s dog Mutley.
The violence unleashed is quite nasty in places, in particular when an iron drops on Stern’s head, which in normal circumstances probably would have killed him.
Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it’s easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults – and it has a few – it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around.