Director: Chris Columbus (USA). Year of Release: 1990
I normally only use this site to review films I’ve seen in the cinema, along with the occasional pre-release press stream. But as it’s Christmas, here’s one that I have honestly just seen on tv for the first time (this is not of itself unusual. There’s a number of films that “everyone” has seen but I somehow missed. I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films. I did go into one screening, but fell asleep as the opening credits rolled and woke up just as it was time to leave).
Anyway, Home Alone. There’s no point in spending too much time on the plot, as even I knew was going to happen. The McCallisters, a family from Chicago, go on Christmas holiday to Paris, as you do, and leave their 8-year old son Kevin at home. Two crooks know of their holiday and have staked out the house, leaving Kevin alone to foil their attempted burglary. Will he succeed? Look, if you’re asking that sort of question, then you’re obviously following the wrong film.
A few things before we get started. First, the family is so wealthy that we are obviously rooting for the burglars from the start, urging them to steal every ounce of ostentatious privilege on display. We only start to turn against them when, rather than making off with the grand piano, and the wads of money that are just lying around, they chase Kevin into his treehouse. Kevin may be an obnoxious brat, but he’s not evil, just naughty (and with a family like that, who wouldn’t be?)
Secondly, the film urges us to hate view Kevin’s mother as the main villain. She neglects to notice that her son is missing, then pushes other passengers aside so she can abuse the airline staff. But she’s nothing compared to her husband. It is he who books them first class tickets while sending the kids to the back of the plane. When Kevin disappears, hubby isn’t too fussed, and probably does not know exactly how many kids he has. He has enough money to buy as many more as he wants.
Thirdly, for all the way that he stands up to his obnoxious family, and for all the initiative that he shows later in the film, early Kevin is just weird. Imagine that you’re an 8-year old boy and you’ve been given free reign of your parents’ house. What would you do? Make a massive ice cream sundae and gorge yourself on junk food, sure. Watch films noirs on the video, maybe. But go out and buy detergent and wash your clothes? Kevin’s subversive naughtiness clearly has its limits.
The film lasts the best part of 2 hours, and the first hour or more is generally forgettable sentimental nonsense. Apart from the slightly nauseating family scenes, Kevin learns that his neighbour, Marley, is not a scary menace, but an old man who is trying to connect with his estranged son and granddaughter. This is a shame, as Marley has so far been by far the most interesting character in the film, but Kevin’s interest turns him into a Meaningful Symbol about the importance of Family.
Similarly, Kevin’s mum may be a bit of an ignorant cow (although her husband is much worse), but (hardly a plot spoiler as it’s so fucking inevitable), this is all leading up to a final scene where she and Kevin hug, and she promises never to neglect him again – or at least, not until the Inescapable Sequel. Though the best way of making her learn empathy would be to hang her from her feet while removing all her money, the film prefers to believe that all she needs is a cute smile from her kid.
So, it’s all crap, right? WRONG! We’re not watching this to draw sentimental life lessons. We’re here for the cartoon violence that we’ve seen in countless video clips. We want to see Joe Pesci being hit on the head by various heavy objects – objectively funny scenes which are beautifully choreographed. The best parts of Home Alone are those when it forgets to tell us that we should love our families, and just aspires towards the High Art of a Road Runner cartoon.
Of course, there are ways in which it could be even better. The most obvious would be to include more scenes of ultra-violence, which doesn’t really start until the final half hour. As well as depriving us of a sufficient number of great scenes, it means that some of the violence is rushed, and would be much better with a little more suspense. In particular, a scene with a nail was done much better by A Quiet Place which took its time, before inflicting more pain than we see here.
Then again, not everyone has treated the comic violence with the reverence that it deserves. Apparently there was a recent tv show on Channel 4 or somewhere which scientifically tested which of the stunts used by Kevin to ward off the burglars would work in real life. Which sounds like the best way of destroying a number of perfectly decent jokes. I hate to say it, but it looks like not everyone gets Home Alone.
Home Alone is one of those films where the best characters are those who are supposed to be unsympathetic. That’s Marley, until he’s unfortunately given a backstory, and the burglars Harry and Marv. I guess, it’s also Kevin himself. If you spend time to consider (I suggest you don’t) Kevin is a greedy spoiled brat who only really deserves our sympathy for surviving his repellent family. And they are so dull that the film gets much better when it concentrates on Kevin, Harry and Marv.
Home Alone is not a ground breaking film, but Christmas classics do not have to be (this statement is in no sense a justification of Love Actually).