Day 4 of this cinematic Christmas list, and it’s time to take on a film enjoying its 30th anniversary this year: the incomprehensibly much-loved Home Alone.
To catch up on the films discussed so far, head to this link.
Why do people love Home Alone so much? How has this film become such a staple of Christmas films that 30 years on, sites like this are still trying to fathom what it is about director Chris Columbus and writer John Hughes‘ 1990 home invasion comedy which appeals so strongly to the popular consciousness?
For three whole decades now, audiences have lapped up the sight of veteran actor and Academy Award winner Joe Pesci get blowtorched, bludgeoned and burying his head in the snow alongside Daniel Stern in some fairly okay slapstick, surrounded by what is otherwise a limp, overstretched and incredibly bland film.
To the film’s credit, it scored some very good luck by having Macaulay Culkin as Home Alone‘s hero. Without Culkin’s likability buoying the film along, Kevin McCallister would have been an intolerable screen presence and there’s no doubt that people would have ended up rooting for the Wet Bandits before the film’s end. It can’t be overstated just how good Culkin is here, and although he has some pretty hokey material to work with – especially for a writer of Hughes’ talent – it’s easy to see why his old-before-his-time schtick has been so well received over the years.
Unfortunately not everyone is up to the task, and so much of the build-up to the climactic break-in falls completely flat thanks to Columbus’ pedestrian direction, and an uninspired looking support cast. Aside from Pesci and Stern mugging it up in the third act, supposedly for nobody’s entertainment but their own, there’s not a lot to enjoy when the action moves away from suburban Chicago. The best of the rest is probably Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s mum, who puts in a committed enough performance to have something vaguely interesting onto which to latch.
There’s simply not enough going on otherwise though, and when even the late, great John Candy can’t do anything to get a laugh, there’s not much hope for anyone else.
The thing is, the high-concept setup of Home Alone is genuinely great. That it’s wasted so egregiously on this film is a travesty, and no amount of Joe Pesci screaming pained gibberish – apparently he kept having to stop himself from swearing for real during takes – makes up for the squandered potential. Sure, this might have been improved in the sequel (NB: having never seen Lost in New York I can’t comment either way) but Home Alone is a mess.
Of course, popular opinion dictates that anyone who doesn’t fall over themselves to gush over Home Alone after so many years deserves a punishment as gruelling as Harry and Marv’s. With a remake destined for Disney+ in the near future, it seems that there’s enough goodwill, after several critically panned sequels, for the Home Alone property to keep churning out more slapstick hi-jinks.
It’s a shame, that of all the things Joe Pesci will be most widely remembered for, it’ll be him being tarred and feathered by an eight year old, and not this: