Home Alone (1990)

15 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Home Alone” is essentially based upon a kid’s fantasy of staying at home by himself without any adult supervision. Kids are fascinated by that special moment in their lives. The parents tell the kid to be careful and take responsibility; but let’s face it, when we were left alone for the first time, we raided the kitchen for junk food, watched violent R-rated movies, jumped on our parents’ bed, and went through our older brother’s secret stuff.

That’s what the young protagonist in this movie does when he’s left home alone in his suburban house in Chicago. His house is his own playground. But he isn’t left alone at his own will—he was accidentally left behind when his crowded family left for a Christmas trip to Paris. One morning, everyone in the McAllister house is rushing out of the house to make the plane that they forgot about the little eight-year-old named Kevin. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is confused at first, but then he realizes the beauty of the situation. He goes crazy, running around and playing. This is intersected with a subplot involving the family as they realize the mistake they’ve made and the mother (well-played by Catherine O’Hara) tries to get home to her son. She goes from airport to airport to get from Paris back to Chicago.

But there’s a problem back at the house—in another subplot, two burglars named Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) have targeted the house for their next big hit. Kevin fools them numerous times to make them think he’s not the only one home. He should call the police, right? Well, the phones aren’t working because conveniently enough (actually, it’s a little too convenient) there was a storm the night before that trashed the phone lines. So he should go to a neighbor then, right? Well, the only neighbor that’s home at Christmastime is an old man who is described by Kevin’s older brother as a serial killer who kills people with his snow shovel.

So, of course, it’s up to Kevin to ultimately defend his house from the two bad guys and this brings us to the final half of the movie, in which Kevin sets up many booby traps around the house using many household objects—blowtorches, irons, paint cans, Micro Machines, and glass ornaments.

So you could say that “Home Alone” is inconsistent. With the touching family issues that follow when the family realizes they accidentally left Kevin alone, and the fun that a kid has when he’s left alone, there’s also a lot of slapstick humor, particularly in the final half when the burglars are breaking into the house and Kevin uses his traps to beat them up…badly. I would have to agree that it is inconsistent, but to be honest, I didn’t mind so much. The humor works for the most part, there are touching moments that work, and I thought the slapstick was just hilarious. I just love that this eight-year-old kid is able to take down these two men. But this is a plucky, resourceful kid—he stands up for himself, has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and isn’t just running around screaming. And the traps are very inventive—how often does it happen when an iron comes crashing down when trying to turn on the light?

Macaulay Culkin turns in an excellent performance as Kevin. He’s resourceful, but he’s still a kid. He gets happy, sad, angry, whiny, and witty—Culkin shows great emotional range. He never takes a step wrong as a genuine child, and that’s because he is one. Catherine O’Hara plays her part of the mother wonderfully in scenes that are funny and touching. I love it when she just snaps at a Scranton airport clerk and says, “Even if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son.” As for Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, it’s just fun to watch them get their butts handed to them. They play caricatures, to be sure, but goofy enough to make us laugh.

Another touching performance comes from the most touching scene in the movie. The performance comes from Roberts Blossom, who plays the neighbor who was said to be a killer, and the scene is when he and Kevin meet in a church. It turns out he’s a kind old man who has great respect for family, but has gotten into an argument with his son some years ago and they haven’t been on speaking terms since. (He’s at the church to watch his granddaughter sing in the choir, even though his son forbids him to come.) This is why he’s reclusive and rarely talks to people. Kevin learns something about family values from him. He realizes that he does miss his family and would just like to spend Christmas with them.

“Home Alone” is a small treasure that is entertaining and well-meaning…once you get past the paint cans being hurled at your head. With a likable young hero, some goofy slapstick, and a real sense of family connection when all is said and done, “Home Alone” is a charming family comedy.

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