"Home Alone" With A Crowd

I have a complicated relationship with “Home Alone.”  Of course, it’s also a completely one-sided relationship, since the movie has no idea that I exist…or any sentience at all.  It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear…er…sorry.  Got a bit carried away there.

I could sit here and criticize the film, but really what’s the point?  Some films are beyond critique, and this is one of them.  You might as well try to review a Tom & Jerry cartoon.  “Home Alone” has become a holiday standard, and is also (as of this writing) the highest grossing live-action comedy film of all time.  Every person in North America has probably seen it at least once.

In case you haven’t, though, here’s the plot:  The McAllister Family accidentally leaves their son, Kevin, home alone when they head to Paris for Christmas.  Kevin must then defend his home from two burglars.  Hilarity and much cartoon-style violence ensues.

That’s a very bare bones description, I know.  I could go into more detail.  Much more detail.  No really, MUCH more detail.  When my son was little, he fell in love with “Home Alone.”  I’d call it a borderline obsession for him.  He insisted on watching it over and over again.  Every day when I would come home from work, it’d be on, and I have no idea how many viewings my ex-wife had to sit through.  I know I saw it so many times that I started looking for continuity errors just to keep myself sane.  Thankfully my son grew out of his interest in the movie, but to this day, I could probably describe the film scene-by-scene. 

While it’s set at Christmas, “Home Alone” isn’t much of a Christmas film and really little about the film would change if you moved it to a different time of year.  Admittedly it does more with its Christmas setting than “Die Hard,” but it has far less of a Christmas-time feeling and sentiment than its sequel, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (Both of these films will be discussed by my esteemed site colleagues as the month progresses).

Since I brought up “Die Hard,” it could be (and has been) argued that “Home Alone” is really just a kid-friendly version of that film, right down to a scene where a man walks on broken glass barefoot.  I can’t find any evidence that this scene is a deliberate homage to “Die Hard,” but I choose to believe that it is. 

I don’t think the ”Die Hard”-esque plot is why this film has endured, though.  Maybe it’s the humor.  Most of the movie is funny, but the last 20 minutes may be some of the best slapstick put to film.  I mentioned Tom & Jerry earlier, and that’s really what the end of “Home Alone” is like.  The likelihood of a family not noticing that they don’t have their son with them until they’re on a plane to Paris is remote.  But reality goes completely out the window as the two burglars, Harry and Marv, are beaten, bashed, and burned by the various traps Kevin sets up around his house.  The movie becomes a live-action cartoon.

When my son was old enough to understand, I watched “Home Alone” with him again, and I spent the last 20 minutes giving a running commentary that pretty much went like this: “Dead…dead…paralyzed…dead…” and so on to explain to him how much punishment Harry and Marv actually absorb.  It is really funny to watch, though.

I would also chalk up a lot of the film’s success to Macaulay Culkin.  He has to carry most of the film and play against some very good actors.  Catherine O’Hara is a legend, and Joe Pesci has one of those Oscar things that you may have heard of.  Culkin holds his own with both of them and remains engaging to watch without ever becoming obnoxious or overly wooden.  He’s also living out the ultimate kid’s fantasy of having complete freedom and taking out a couple of bad guys.

I’m still not sure I’d call “Home Alone” a great movie.  Or even a good one.  It’s fun, though, which may be enough.  It will, however, always be special to me because it is a part of one of my favorite holiday memories ever.

I have to break the Christmas theme a bit here, though, because the holiday I’m speaking of is Thanksgiving.

As is the case with most Christmas films, “Home Alone” was released before Thanksgiving in 1990.  My family finished our Thanksgiving dinner relatively early on that Thursday, so, in the spirit of family togetherness, I ditched everyone and went to the movies by myself.  First, I drove downtown and saw a matinee of Predator 2.  Then, after a quick stop at a convenience store for a snack and to call home on a pay phone (it was 1990, after all), I went to the evening show of “Home Alone” at our mall theater.

No matter how advanced our home theater technology gets, I don’t believe that it will ever be able to replace the communal experience of enjoying a movie in a theater with an audience.  My main memory of seeing “Home Alone” that Thanksgiving night is of how much fun the audience was having during the movie, particularly those last 20 minutes.  Over twenty years later, that showing is still one of the best audience experiences that I’ve ever had.

So, no, “Home Alone,” isn’t a great movie.  It isn’t even really a good Christmas movie.  But I’m fond of it because of the holiday memories it provokes.  Heading off alone on a holiday to see a couple of movies may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it was exactly what 16-year-old me wanted to do.  And this silly semi-Christmas movie was a big part of one of my all-time favorite Thanksgivings.

-Alan Decker

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