Home Alone (1990)

“This is my house. I have to defend it.”

Justin’s rating: So good, they should’ve just stopped with one.

Justin’s review: The good Lord knows that we have no shortage of Christmas movies in the world. We probably have more Christmas movies than the entire population of Canada, and that’s including moose and any intelligent muskrats. Yet actual Christmas classics aren’t all that common, the ones that we’ll end up watching every year on heavy rotation and talking about decades after their release. These are your Christmas Storys, your Elfs, and — yes — your Home Alones.

When you get one, kids, you need to treasure it.

A Christmas classic isn’t just a movie that’s good in one respect but in practically all of them. And while it looked like John Hughes went off his rocker when he traded teen angst movies to direct some kid-fighting-burglar thing in 1990, what none of us saw coming was the fact that he helped to wrangle all of these elements together to great effect. Home Alone became a smash hit of that holiday season thanks to really funny acting, a ludicrous setup, a fantastic score by John Williams, and… wait, let’s just listen to Williams for a bit here. Let’s soak in it:

Ugh. So, so good. So good in fact, that Williams recycled it for the Harry Potter movies, but that’s neither here nor there. Williams nailed the Christmas spirit with this score and helped the movie to swing effortlessly between comedy and schmaltzy drama without feeling contrived.

At the onset of Home Alone, the extended McCallister family is going nuts getting ready for a big holiday trip to France over Christmas. A chain of highly unlikely events leads to youngest son (and resident black sheep) Kevin being totally left alone at home without knowing what happened. In an age before cell phones, the internet, or a police force that is willing to believe frantic parents trying to call from another continent concerning a neglected child, Kevin effectively gets the run of his house and enjoys life as a premature bachelor.

Let’s pause to give some credit to Macaulay Culkin, who at 10 years old had to shoulder the lead character of this whole film. Now, while Culkin isn’t always perfect with his performance, he does amazing for a child actor. You share his glee at enjoying the freedom of his home, his fear at the furnace in the basement, and his gradual sense of loss over his family. Watching a 10-year-old putter about living every kid’s fantasy is never not hilarious.

As the McCallisters desperately try to call or get home from France, Kevin discovers that he has a more pressing threat than imminent grounding. The Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) have decided that his rich-looking home is the perfect target for some Christmas Eve thievery — and the only thing that stands between them and success is one kid who apparently has no problems with bringing lethal and sadistic force against home invaders.

The unlikely and painful-looking traps that Kevin sets for the Bandits became the selling point of the movie in the third act, as we get a masterful rendition of “Kids vs. Dumb Grown-Ups” that Hollywood likes to throw our way every now and then. While I think that this part has been over-analyzed in the internet age, it’s decent enough — but I wish it noted for the record that it’s not what this movie is all about. Kevin on his own, making important realizations about family, and confronting his own fears is the journey he’s on in Home Alone. The traps part only comes after he’s mastered that journey, showing that he’s grown up in a significant way.

Cool or not, Home Alone is always a welcome part of my Christmas season for the laughs, the music, and the story it brings. It’s a true Christmas classic, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

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