Reviews: Home Alone

That Gingerbread Feeling™

Home Alone is a film that takes a premise that can be done wrong in so many ways, and transmogrifies it into 99.1% chemically pure Christmas joy through sheer skill, craftsmanship, and the power of big-budget Hollywood magic.

Kevin McCallister is your average precocious and wildly inventive '90s kid who, through a series of unfortunate events, misses his Big, Screwed-Up Family's chartered flight to Florida and ends up alone during Christmas. In his home. At first it's all fun and games, with Kevin indulging in every innocent childhood vice with gleeful abandon... for all of five minutes.

Refreshingly, the film foregoes the cloying "kid empowerment" (at least in this regard and other situations applicable to real life) trend of the time for a Reality Ensues approach; for instance, Kevin is forced to steal money from his brother to pay for food. Things get worse when a pair of bumbling yet vicious burglars target the McCallister home for a—ahem—holiday heist. Kevin is able to keep them at bay and trick them into believing the house is occupied after all through crazy Rube Goldberg devices and the power of Brenda Lee, but not for long. Eventually, they wisen up and decide to break in. Genre Blind as they are, they weren't counting on the film going all PG-rated Saw on their asses out of nowhere. Cartoonish slapstick ensues.

Again, it's to the movie's credit that not even as a child did I have a Just Here for Godzilla approach to the film's over-the-top traps. Sure, it achieves its goal as a "family film without the family" on the strength of its climax alone, but movies that simply entertain are a dime a dozen. No, the film has a rather palpable amount of heart: Kevin's rather heartwrenching realization of the short-term joy of being parent-free; his mother's Mama Bear approach to getting back to him no matter the cost; and, of course, old man Marley, which could have been a movie in itself.

The decorative bow tying this savory Christmas classic together is John Williams' score, which is interchangeably syrupy-sweet and eerily sinister in a Defanged Horrors kind of way. As to be expected from the Master. Home Alone, and its irreverent yet resonant Christmasey charms spirit, is a film that has rightfully earned its place in the pantheon of seasonal classics.

Just, uh, stay away from the sequels, man. Only pain will you find.

I wasn't Just Here For Godzilla as a kid (first movie)

When the original Home Alone came out, I was 9. A typical lowbrow fourth-grader who would ignore the plot, and just laugh at the slapstick violence in the finale, right?

Not quite.

Home Alone had a simple, but good, story. It's right there in the title: a kid is left home alone by accident when his parents go off on vacation and mistakenly leave him behind. What would a little kid do if home all by himself? Well, Kevin exercises his newfound freedom by trashing his older brother's bedroom and ordering pizza over the phone. He also tries out adult responsibilities, like buying groceries, and discovers that it's harder than it seems. It's great fun seeing Kevin dumped into the "real world", with no parental supervision or help, try to make it on his own for a while.

The robbers are a nice subplot that adds a bit more suspense to the story. They pose a real threat that Kevin assumes (at first) he can't possibly handle on his own. He tries subterfuge at first, and seeing Kevin try to trick the robbers into thinking that there's other people in the house is a lot of fun. He's a clever, resourceful kid, trying to handle an intimidating situation and doing so using his wits.

At least, until the third act. Once Kevin realizes the robbers are going to break into his house anyway, he sets traps all over the place to try to thwart them. And thwart them he does, in the form of slapstick violence so well known that we practically have a name for it - as when anyone says "Home Alone antics", we instantly know what they're talking about. This part was great fun as well when I was a kid, and was a very enjoyable way to close out an otherwise intelligently written, entertaining and lightly suspenseful movie.

Sadly, it overshadowed all the other elements. A kid in my class told me he didn't care about the scenes where Kevin tricked people into thinking he had company in the house. I remember thinking he was classless for being like that, and sadly came to the conclusion that, hey, maybe all kids my age were like that. Why? Such a well-told story with so many elements, and all most people care about is the violence at the end? It's like an insult to all the effort put into the movie. I feel as if it might be better off without the slapstick.