Julien Neaves, Editor
Merry Christmas Red Mango Readers! On behalf of myself, Sommer and Alice, hope you folks have a wonderful and safe day today.
It’s been three decades since Macaulay Culkin first screamed his way into our hearts in the Christopher Columbus Christmas comedy classic (try to say that five times fast) Home Alone.
This week Rotten Tomatoes had a best Christmas movie poll and, surprise surprise, Home Alone booby trapped its way to number one and beat out a slew of Yuletide gems including A Christmas Story, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, and even Die Hard. But does it truly deserve this honour? Well it’s Christmas Day today (in some countries) so let’s unwrap this beloved film in a retrospective review.
For those who have never seen Home Alone — and yes, that burning sensation on your skin is the heat of my judgmental stare — it tells the story of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister (Culkin) who has to protect his home from bumbling thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) after his family accidentally leaves his home alone (yes Pitch Meeting guy, that’s the name of the movie) when they travel to Paris on Christmas vacation.
One thing that is indisputable (well, you can dispute it but you would be wrong) is that the music in this film is just fantastic. And this is no surprise because it is scored by multi-Academy-Award-winning and legendary composer John Williams, who has created iconic music for a laundry list of franchises including Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter. In Home Alone he gives us tunes that range from dark to mischievous to uplifting, and all of it memorable. So during my rewatch I fell in love with the music again.
While I am enamoured with Williams’s score for the film, I cannot say the same for some of the characterisation. Firstly did Kevin have to be such a brat in the beginning? I know this is supposed to be part a redemption arc but when he first meet him he is an awful kid, and it is only made palatable by Culkin’s cuteness and charm. Sure the other children pick on him and even insult him in French, but they seem to be reacting to his nasty behaviour more than anything else. And he is extremely rude to his mother, telling her, “Hang up the phone and make me why don’t you?” and calling her “dummy.” If he was in the Caribbean his backside would have been redder than a Christmas ham. And the pièce de résistance is him tackling Buzz after he eats all the cheese pizza and the pretends to vomit. Sure Buzz is a bully and a jerk, but that is some out of control behaviour there.
And Kevin’s parents are not that great either. Sure there is the obvious forgetting him thing, which is doubly worse when you realise his mother didn’t even bother to check on him or look for him after they had a big fight the night before. I don’t care how much you are rushing, or how many children you have, that is just plain bad. And did you notice that neither Dad nor Mom admonish Uncle Frank after he calls Kevin “a little jerk”? Seriously, these two need some parenting classes.
Thankfully Kevin without his family is much more fun and his child fantasy shenanigans remain entertaining. I liked when he told the grocery clerk he couldn’t tell her where he lives because she’s a stranger. The mob pizza delivery scene was funny but felt unnecessarily cruel. And the second aftershave scream and him screaming into the camera after seeing Old Man Marley fell flat for me. And Kevin’s mother Kate, played wonderfully by Catherine O’Hara, does get redeemed with her desperation-to-return-home subplot. And she does get to meet the late John Candy’s professional polka singer character Gus, who was really a breath of fresh air.
But the best characters in the movie are definitely Harry and Marv. Pesci and Stern have superb chemistry and comedic timing. Harry: What happened to your shoes? Marv: why are you dressed like a chicken? Classic! These two deliver some Grade A physical comedy and screaming that made me laugh again after all this time. Strangely the scenes with the traps seemed shorter than I remembered, though my mind may have combined them with some of the traps from the sequel which was pretty much the same movie with a different location.
And now for the plot. Seriously, this film has to be one of the most contrived films ever made. The leaps of logic that the viewer has to make would have a moon-jumping cow feeling jealous. Here’s a rapid fire list:
- Harry and Marv waiting around the scene of a potential murder to help ID the suspect
- The police ask a bunch of questions but never the child’s age
- Dad Peter leaves a message on the neighbour’s phone which the bandits hear but it never mentions Kevin?
- Kevin recognises Harry as the fake cop though he passed without looking at him
- Kevin is suddenly an engineering genius
- The movie gunfire and fireworks and completely synced
- Marley lives next door but did not realise all the family was gone and Kevin was home alone, and never asked for his parents when he saw him in the church
- The thieves mention the exact time they are coming in the open
- Kevin calls the police during the battle with the bandits and at no point before
- The police know they are the Wet Bandits even though they are caught in a house where Marv did not turn on the pipes
I could go on but you get the idea.
And another issue is the film is not that great for younger children. Those traps are funny but they are also violent and dangerous. And you have Harry threatening to snap off and boil Kevin’s cojones. Or Marv wondering if Kevin committed suicide. Even Kate saying she will sell her soul to the devil to get a flight is a bit dark. Kevin’s family reunion at the end and seeing Marley reunite with his son are both very touching scenes and it still plucked the old heartstrings for me. But yeah, Home Alone as a film is problematic and I suspect it gets such love because of a heavy helping of nostalgia.
So in conclusion, there are some things that hold up very well in Home Alone, and some things that do not. And while I agree it remains a Christmas classic, I disagree that it is the best Christmas movie ever. A Christmas Story is funnier, Elf is more family friendly and It’s a Wonderful Life is more touching. But three decades later it can still deliver quite a few laughs and a decent message about appreciating your family, warts and all. And that is a message that I wholeheartedly agree with. So that’s my two cents. Keep the change you filthy animals.
For Featured Writer Alice’s review of Netflix’s Jingle Jangle you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.