Home Alone – (1990)
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
Screenplay by: John Hughes
John Hughes past away early August of 2009. While I have my issues with his types of movies, especially his 80s flicks of genre stereotypes, I guess I can’t fault his abilities to tell a story, despite their simplicity. His films were always iconic of a specific time period, but many of them just don’t hold up well (minus the nostalgic glasses). Still, I admire the person as a filmmaker, and that’s really the ultimate point.
Home Alone is no exception. It’s a perfect 90s movie, a precursor to the glut of pro-kid films that assaulted the early decade with reckless abandon (that didn’t have them up against some Russian/German antagonist). This is partially why I miss the 90s—back then, it was considered that kids could indeed do something, that they could make a difference, that they mattered. Nowadays? Well, there’s Yu-gi-oh.
NOSTALGIC LENS: I’ve probably sat through this movie fully once. By the time it hit the TV circuit, the number of times that it rotated in and out the schedule was staggering. I watched about thirty minutes of whenever it came one, snickered a bit, and then moved on. It never held my attention for any length of time. I do like Daniel Stern though. I enjoyed Bushwacked. I wonder if that’ll be a future CR feature. Hmm…
DOES IT HOLD UP: The direction is sublime. The writing is contrived.
Chris Columbus must have taken cues from Richard Donner. One underrated skill directors deal with is blocking (the movement of actors in a scene), especially with large crowds and kids, which only ratchets the difficulty to eleven. And while the acting itself is mediocre at best for the most part, the introduction is really well done in terms of motion and pacing. With the glut of children and adults running around as they prepare for their trip to France, it’s pretty hectic, and Columbus makes it work.
The plot is pretty obvious. Culkin’s character, Kevin McCallister, screws up a dinner that creates some hostility between him and the rest of the family. He sulks and goes to his room, wishing he never had a family. Well, guess what happens? In a pathetically loathsome plot contrivance (which I’ll discuss later), the family leaves for France without him. Kevin is left… uh… home alone. Stuff happens, and then he has to defend his house from some burglars.
I should have been prepared for the awkwardness of the writing—and I was, for the most part—but even I had to grimace at the obvious, not-subtle-at-all set-ups for the story. Early on you see a ton of random items and props that clearly will be used at the climax of the movie in some fashion. BB Gun? Check. Tarantula? Check. Laundry chute? Check. Made-up video with specific lines that may or may not be used to scare someone away? Oh, you best be checking that.
It’s quite quotable, though.
The worse moment is the actual scenario that causes the family to forget Kevin. Some random kid comes out of nowhere and manages to be distracting and bad-acting enough for the family to miscount the number of children. Then the kid DISAPPEARS. Now, part of me thinks that, yes, that was the joke. Sort of the cruel fate of random irony that is often just cast upon people—a “wrong place at the wrong time” kind of scenario. But still, it’s so clumsily handled that it seems like at some point, it clearly should have been noted that, no, that random kid is not Kevin. It might have worked out better to forgo that scene completely and just ratchet up the hurried nature of the scene, whereby they leave Kevin alone due to a huge oversight instead of a mistaken child.
That sounds nit-picky. So I’m not harping on it too long. After that, the film runs a generic gamut of jokes and moments and what-have-you. It’s kinda charming at some points and lame at others, but that’s what you got in the early 90s. It’s pretty interesting to see Kevin garner some adult responsibility—buying groceries, doing laundry, washing dishes—but it seems odd, mainly because there’s no moment where Kevin is triggered to “grow up.” He kinda just does.
While the beats aren’t running on full cylinders, at the very least the moments have some merit. While I have a lot of trouble seeing Kevin impart wisdom in a church on the typical neighborhood “scary old guy,” it’s still… uh… cute. I should mention that this movie takes place during Christmas, so one of the main themes of importance of family, of unity during the holidays, of good tithing and forgiveness, is at the forefront, and while clunky, still manages to be appealing in its own quiet and subtle ways.
The best element of the movie is Catherine O’ Hara, who plays Kevin’s mother. She’s driven with that unbridled passion for her son without rampant it up to ridiculous levels, perfect for the family picture. She has a unique timing for gags and line deliveries, which certainly isn’t in the pantheon of great film moments, but are better than one might expect. Which is odd, considering the father barely registers any concern at all. How the hell did that relationship work?
Oh, I forgot to mention the burglars. Well, they’re okay. I mean, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern ham it up a little, and they on occasion have a hilarious rapport between them, but they’re nothing to jump up and down about. Another odd thing: they manage a somewhat sophisticated plan to rob all the homes, but fail to out-wit a kid. It’s okay– like I said, it’s one of those pro-kid stories that was perfect for its time. I was somewhat amused by Stern’s obsession for being known as the “Wet Bandits”.
Uh, so here’s a montage of all the wacky traps set to Yakety-Sax:
IN A NUTSHELL: Here’s what you do. Watch the first 30 minutes, then the clip above. Bravo! You just watch Home Alone. While I don’t regret watching the film again, I can’t say that there are better things out there to do with my time. But it’s for the children, which is fine! I don’t think today’s kids will find much to like about it, though.
November 23rd: [surprise]
November 30th: Babe