Around this time of year people are surprised to learn I’ve never seen Home Alone, to which I counter that I have walked past a Jo Malone.
This 1990 child abuse comedy about a boy (Macaulay Culkin) left alone in his mansion on Christmas Eve after his family go to Paris without him defies credibility from the outset; it’s one thing for David Cameron to not realise he left his child in a pub toilet until he’s halfway down the road, but halfway round the world? It plays like an inadvertent class satire, implying that wealth makes people materialistic to the point of emotional blindness. That reading is possibly deliberate but it’s more likely writer John Hughes just wanted the large house to be an attractive proposition for the comedy burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).
While more convergent than the crime storylines in such contemporaries as Ghost and Three Men and a Baby, this burglary plot (coupled with Roberts Blossom’s neighbour character) makes for another creepy-in-hindsight movie of the kind you probably couldn’t make now; something of a speciality for director Chris Columbus, since the same can be said of Mrs. Doubtfire and the Harry Potter films. The Gremlins writer also can’t help but invoke horror flicks in his direction, including Xtro (parental neglect manifesting in childhood violence), A Nightmare on Elm Street (scary basement furnace, domestic improvised booby traps) and Hellraiser (scenes where he looks for “Uncle Frank” in the basement).
But where Gremlins subverted It’s a Wonderful Life with such a winning balance of satire and festivity, Home Alone‘s attempts ring hollow. Shrill and annoying throughout, it lurches Scrooged-style between crass comedy and crass sentiment with neither wit nor heart. The idea of a child being saved from the situation in which his parents abandoned him by the violent films that actually raised him is appealingly subversive, yet the movie bottles it with a trite and frankly unearned moral; he learns to put up with his family, not because any of them care about each other but because it’s Christmas and someone needs to learn something.
The movie delivers a successful slapstick climax, a Christmassy John Williams score and some decent gags along the way, but it’s a long time to spend with such uniformly unlikeable characters; resentful adults and obnoxious children who put you firmly on the side of the bumbling burglars. Barely worth mentioning are appearances from Catherine O’Hara, John Candy and the worst church scene since The Expendables, as well as the least convincing placement of fake snow this side of Lapland New Forest.
Home Alone was the highest-grossing comedy of all time until The Hangover Part II and while one can see how the house-to-yourself fantasy element appealed to children, 30 years later the film appears naff, nonsensical, noisy and nasty. Like Joe Pesci’s Christmas song, it’s best left alone.