As a 13-year old, I saw Home Alone in the theater when it was released in 1990. For reasons explained elsewhere, I did not go to the movies much as a kid, and persuading my mother to let me see the hottest new movie amongst my demographic in the theater was something of a coup.
Some time later, a family member informed my mother, who still had not seen Home Alone, about the bad attitude Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) has toward his family and how disrespectfully he speaks to his mother (Catherine O’Hara). Mom pointed this out to me, as if I had been keeping it a secret from her. I assured her I knew Kevin’s attitude was not acceptable, as I probably rolled my eyes while she wasn’t looking.
A parent myself now, I can of course understand a little better Mom’s concerns about how a Hollywood movie might influence her child. But, Kevin’s terrible attitude is of course central to the plot of Home Alone (and I’m happy to say Mom has since seen it and, by appearances, seemed to enjoy it).
When the movie opens, we find the McCallister house a-bustle with activity, as the family and extended family prepare to leave for France the next morning. Eight year-old Kevin is fed up with all the relatives and the lack of enough plain cheese pizza. In his defense, his siblings and cousins do treat him cruelly, insulting him in French, calling him a disease, and eating all the aforementioned cheese pizza on purpose. This last offense breaks the camels back and Kevin flips out, causing a scene in the crowded kitchen which results in some misplaced travel documents. Only adding to his disdain for his own family, Uncle Frank spews a sneering invective in one of the greatest insults in movie history ever leveled at an eight year-old:
Somewhat understandably, yet completely inappropriately, Kevin declares he wishes he didn’t have a family. Hurt, his mother hopes he doesn’t mean it and sends him off to bed in the attic.
When he awakes the next morning to find the family gone he thinks his wish made his family disappear (in their rush to leave for France, they just forgot him). At first, it’s a dream come true and he revels in it. Enter the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), a couple of burglars who have had their eyes set on the McCallister house, the “silver tuna”, since they started working the neighborhood. As the days go by and Christmas Day draws nearer, Kevin defends his house from the criminals, conquers his fears, and realizes he misses his family and loves them after all.
The final John Hughes movie on our list, in Home Alone Hughes again reminds us that while family can drive us nuts, when it comes down to it, it’s what really matters. There are great performances by Culkin, Pesci, and O’hara. The late, great John Candy has a fairly minor, but scene stealing role as Gus Polinski, the Polka King of the Midwest, who helps O’hara get home to Kevin.
For us 90’s kids, Home Alone is a Christmas classic, but I wonder if today’s kids have realized that the whole madcap scenario could have been solved rather easily since the advent of cell phones. My kids haven’t clued in on that yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. For it’s time, the movie does a pretty good job of realistically thwarting all of the family’s attempts to contact Kevin from France, though I would not give their communities police department high marks for diligence. One unanswered knock on the door and the officer assumes the abandoned eight year-old is fine? Okay.
Of course, you can’t talk about Home Alone without bringing up the funhouse of horrors Kevin transform his house into when the Wet Bandits make their final assault. Irons to the face, blowtorches to the head, and broken glass to the feet are just a few of the booby traps Kevin sadistically dreams up and employs. I recently read an article that documented all the injuries Pesci and Stern’s characters would have suffered in real life. It’s a Christmas miracle they survived.
Home Alone is a full of slapstick fun and a lot of heart. Good performances, a great–and Oscar nominated–soundtrack from John Williams, a ton of quotable lines and memorable scenes also help to make it #4 on our list. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.