Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!