Written by John Hughes
Directed by Chris Columbus
Just about everyone has one of those moments when their family is just so completely on their nerves, that they no longer think they can stand the situation. Inside or out loud they make the wish that they were alone and everyone was gone. Of course, it doesn’t seem to take much longer and we regret our moment of ire. Especially during the holiday season, what would it be like without at least some family around us?
Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister (portrayed by Macaulay Culkin) is having a hard time dealing with an influx of family members in his home during the holiday season in preparation for a trip together to France for the holidays. No one wants to help him pack his suitcase and he’s generally ignored by everyone, including his own parents. Kevin’s not a sweet, innocent child. He gets into trouble and things he shouldn’t such as using the hot glue gun to make a Christmas ornament out of his father’s new fish hooks.
After being punished for acting out, he makes the wish I hope I never see any of you jerks again!!! The next morning, his wish comes true when his family, now running late to the airport, forgets about him asleep up in the attic. When he finally awakens on his own, he finds the house empty except for himself. In their race to make the plane, no one realized Kevin was missing until his mother (portrayed by Catherine O’Hara) has an epiphany mid-flight.
At first, this is a great time for Kevin. He’s having a blast watching movies, eating junk food, and doing all those things parents normally tell their kids not to do in the house. However, once a pair of burglars, Harry and Marv (portrayed by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), attempt to break into his home, it turns into something else as he attempts to defend it from them. Slapstick comedy ensues as he booby-traps the place to thwart their plan. Meanwhile, his mother is frantic to get home since no one seems to be able to locate or reach Kevin.
In many ways, the McCallister family is the antithesis of everything we love about the holidays. Less rooted in spending time celebrating in their own home with a beautiful tree, a good meal, and some quality time, they are jetting off for a vacation to France. Their house is opulent and thus their lifestyle likely is too. The kids are all obnoxious and belligerent to each other. There’s no apparent love between anyone as they are all yelling and acting self-centered in general as they prepare for their trip.
Kevin is no exception to this. Make no mistake, he’s no innocent angel left Home Alone, although what finally makes everyone go crazy with him seems more like a simple misunderstanding (the way only eight-year-olds can perceive something like that) than cause for the extreme rejection he gets from his family. And let me tell you, if anyone, even an aunt, uncle, or grandparent to my child spoke to an eight-year-old of mine the way his uncle does here, heads would role as a mother’s protective instinct would kick in. Not with Mama McCallister. Is it any wonder that Kevin’s own defenses kick in as he tells her he hates her? Not that there’s any excuse for it, but the home does not seem to be a loving, nurturing place at all.
However, as the film evolves so does Kevin and so does his mother. As she is desperately trying to get home in any way possible, she reflects on what a poor parent she’s been. Perhaps she is too hard on herself, but there are some merits to her observations.
Kevin learns a few lessons too about what family means, and also about one’s perceptions. A neighbor who has always frightened the children because of the way he looks is actually a kindly old man if a little lonely. It is his discussions with the lonely Kevin in the church that lead to an epiphany for him as well. The man everyone on the block is afraid of is pals with Kevin in the end.
The pacing of the story is really good. There are some slow, reflective moments but they are tempered quite nicely with the action. The scenes with Harry and Marv are a terrific balance to the moments as the need for one’s family around them, especially during the holiday season. The comedy is very physical, almost like a Three Stooges routine. Kevin is clever as well, especially in how he makes it quite convincingly look like there’s a party going on at his house when he is the only one there.
The performances are great. This was a breakout role for Culkin, and it’s easy to see how he endeared himself to the American public by the end of this film. The evolution of the character is so natural from beginning to end and credit for that not only goes to Culkin but also to Writer John Hughes and Director Chris Columbus who did their own part to weave a tale of a family so caught up in the fast-paced and high expectations society puts on us, especially during the holidays, that they forget what matters most until they have to face “losing” it.
Catherine O’Hara does a good job as the frantic mother who’s embarking on a journey to redeem herself by getting home to her son. All her possessions she’s willing to give up just to get home to him as she’s realizing more and more what really does matter. A poignant conversation with a polka-playing John Candy does weigh the film down a bit near the end, but it’s the final piece of the puzzle for O’Hara. John Heard as her husband Peter really has a minor role throughout as the driving point seems to be how could a mother forget her child? A bit sexist, perhaps.
Pesci and Stern are excellent in their comic relief. They are bumbling but clever burglars who are outwitted by an eight-year-old and it becomes personal for them. Otherwise, it would be hard to swallow why they don’t just leave the house and go find someplace else. They are funny in their expressions and mannerisms as well as with the bumps and bruises they get along the way as they fall into Kevin’s booby traps.
Home Alone is a fun holiday film for the family. The physical comedy is something that everyone can relate to. I know I appreciate the crazy and cozy holidays at home more after watching this.