A FAMILY COMEDY WITHOUT THE FAMILY.
I love everything about Christmas. Most people would pick It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as their favorite Yuletide-themed film, and it certainly is a wonderful classic. However, most Christmas Eves my brother and I have ended up watching another kind of blockbuster. Not because it’s the best Christmas movie ever made (it isn’t), but simply because it was available. Still, every time we have chosen to watch Home Alone, it’s been great fun.
The film was a huge hit in 1990 and inspired writer-producer John Hughes to take his previously successful formula of slapstick in regular comedies and employ it in children’s movies. Some parents were not exactly thrilled to put their tykes in front of a movie where real people get subjected to the same kind of outlandish violence as in old “Tom & Jerry” cartoons. What if kids thought they could do to others what little Kevin in the movie does to the two burglars? Maybe the cuter ingredients and the conservative family values softened the blow a bit to parents.
The movie made a superstar out of Macaulay Culkin who played 8-year-old Kevin McCallister, the youngest son in an affluent family living in the suburbs of Chicago. The McCallisters and their closest relatives are going to spend Christmas in Paris and the house is a complete mess the night before the journey. Tensions run high and Kevin is eventually provoked by his older brother into misbehaving to the degree that he’s sent to his bedroom in the attic for the night. Unapologetic, he tells his mom (Catherine O’Hara) that he wishes he didn’t have a family. That comes true. Kevin’s parents wake up late next morning and rush off with everyone in the family and all the relatives… in such a hurry that they forget their youngest son in the attic. Which they don’t realize until they’re several thousand feet up in the air.
When Kevin eventually wakes up, he’s thrilled to have the house for himself, but soon learns that two burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), intend on emptying his home. At first Kevin is terrified, but he soon works up the courage to plan the defense of the house.
Warm spirit of Christmas
Don’t think too hard about the implausibilities and just enjoy the movie. Young Culkin is very charming as the amazingly resourceful kid, Pesci and Stern are great fun as the dumb criminals who become his punching bags, and O’Hara gives a terrific performance, both warm and hilarious, as the mother. Oh, and let’s not forget John Candy’s little appearance as the king of polka (big in Sheboygan, you know). John Williams’s music is perfect, a key ingredient in director Chris Columbus’s effort to create a warm spirit of Christmas. The film has its saccharine moments, but there’s a serious subplot involving Kevin’s forbidding neighbor (nicely played by Roberts Blossom) that is pretty effective.
The slapstick is brutally funny, well staged and played out. Some viewers will always resent the mushy stuff, but the filmmakers skilfully use their sadistic ingredients to mix it up a bit. Nothing says Christmas like watching Joe Pesci break his back in beautiful, wintry suburbia.
Home Alone 1990-U.S. 102 min. Color. Written and produced by John Hughes. Directed by Chris Columbus. Music: John Williams. Song: “Somewhere In My Memory” (John Williams). Cast: Macaulay Culkin (Kevin McCallister), Joe Pesci (Harry), Daniel Stern (Marv), John Heard, Roberts Blossom, Catherine O’Hara… John Candy.
Trivia: The black-and-white gangster movie featured in a few scenes is not real; it was shot only for this occasion. Culkin’s brother, Kieran, plays Kevin’s incontinent cousin. Followed by four sequels, starting with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992).
Last word: “That’s why I’ve stayed in Chicago, ’cause I never quite fit into L.A. It’s easier to maintain a degree of innocence here, you’re not playing the herd so much. Even my biggest successes, like ‘Home Alone’, cut against the grain somewhat. Around the end of the eighties, the studios wanted me to do something commercial – my old demographics had dwindled, there wasn’t really an audience for the kind of stuff I used to do at that point, I’ve never worked overseas or worked with a really big star, Matthew Broderick was about as big as it got. They forced me to bow down a little bit. So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll write a movie with a nine-year-old as the star, that’ll show ’em.’ (laughs) Little did I know…” (Hughes, Lollipop)