Only select few modern films go on to be labeled “Christmas Classics.” It’s not like the studios don’t try. Each year you can count on a handful of films that will arrive in November and December and attempt to become an annual holiday tradition. The vast majority are simply forgettable, dumb comedies that make a play at the end for emotions by throwing out Christmas sentiment at the audiences, practically begging them to cry. But in between the failures and completely forgettable Christmas movies, an actual good movie comes out. And in those, only a few ones stand the test of time. “Home Alone” is one of them.
I would consider “Home Alone” to be a perfect movie. Not in the sense that it is one of the greatest films ever made, but in the sense that there is nothing I can point to in the movie and say is definitively “wrong.” The pacing of this movie is pretty much perfect. The introduction gives you enough of the family dynamic that you can go along with Kevin for the rest of the movie. It doesn’t take too long for Kevin to be left alone, and we get just enough of the family realizing that they left him behind and trying to make it back to Chicago to earn the emotions at the end of the movie. This movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, ending after an hour and a half.
The movies plot of a boy being left behind at home would not be possible today, but even back in the early 90s the plot required some hand-waving to accept. To the films credit, it preemptively gives an explanation to any question that people could possibly ask. I liken this to “Jurassic Park.” When you see a movie, you are pretty much willing to go along with what the movie presents you, as long as thought is put into it. In “Jurassic Park,” they did such a good job giving us just enough information so that we would let any questions about the logistics go and enjoy the ride. “Home Alone” is the same way, we spend 20 minutes setting up why Kevin would not go to the police, why his parents forget him, and why it’s so difficult for his family to get back. Once we get over those details, we’re ready and willing to go along with whatever the movie presents us. Certainly “Home Alone” makes sense especially when you compare it to the remake, sorry, I mean sequel, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” which is so blatantly ridiculous that I couldn’t stop my brain from poking holes in the logic of the movie.
The key element of this movie is Macaulay Culkin. It really is a miracle that they got this good of a child actor for this role. So often, giving major roles in movies to children in movies is a mistake. They are generally prone to either overacting, acting wooden, and generally being annoying. The risks are ten fold in this movie, because the child actor IS the movie. You are spending a good 80% of the movie with him. If he tanks, he brings the entire movie down with him. Can you imagine this movie with a Jake Lloyd style child actor in the role? We wouldn’t be having this conversation for sure. What Culkin brings to the role is good comedy chops and emotion. When he is asked to be funny, he is actually funny and not annoying. When asked to bring the emotions out in the movie he doesn’t go out of the way to overact or be completely wooden, ending up somewhere in the middle.
I also have to give major kudos to the duo of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the Wet Bandits. Even when I was young, I found the both of them hilarious. The Wet Bandits are pretty much cartoon characters, but why not? If this movie were interested in realism, it would last 10 minutes. If you want a family friendly movie, these are the characters that need to be the villains in the movie. 25 years later, I still laugh loudest at Daniel Stern’s scream after Kevin puts the tarantula on his face.
In fact, I would say the entire cast is perfectly cast, even down to the smallest roles. I always enjoyed Catherine O’Hara’s performance as Kevin’s harried mother, especially when she finds out they left Kevin at home. Some really memorable supporting characters include Kevin’s jerk of an older brother Buzz, the annoying Uncle Frank, and his bed-wetting son, Fuller. Even John Candy shows up here in a minor role as a member of a Polka band, who helps Kevin’s mother get home for Christmas. A great performance is given by Roberts Blossom, the actor who plays the scary shoveler, Old Man Marley. His character is the emotional anchor of the movie. A good ensemble is the bedrock of a classic movie. The depth of the cast really adds to the movies longevity. Whenever you go back to the movie, you notice more details and funny lines in each performance.
I remember the controversy over the level of violence in the movie and am still shocked that there was any. Nothing in this movie is realistic, so when you get to the climax of the movie, the tone doesn’t really change. If all of a sudden, the robbers suffered bloody injuries and we saw it in graphic detail, THAT would be out of place. Who would want to see that kind of violence in a family movie? Since the finale fits in perfectly with the child wish-fulfillment narrative of the movie, there really is nothing for me to complain about.
It’s interesting watching this movie again after so many years. I loved it when I was a kid, of course. But when you grow up, things that you liked as a kid have a tendency to not live up to your memory. This is happily not the case with “Home Alone.” This movie is put together perfectly, with great performances, and big laughs throughout. When the movie was over, I felt relieved that the movie had lost nothing for me. In fact, I think I enjoy it more now. Sure, I got more laughs out of the slapstick comedy of the third act when I was 7, but I enjoy the other parts more now than I did then. After 25 years, this is still an easy recommend for Holiday viewing.