This is the first in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.
This evening, we kicked off the Twelve Days of Christmas Movies with Home Alone. Because the majority of my family were free and for the most part all wanted to watch the film, my sisters, my mother, and I all watched it together. There were some issues with getting the film started up; we had to wait a long time for it to transfer to the computer we wanted to watch it from, and then we found out it was a faulty copy. But it all got sorted out in the end – although we eventually watched it a full hour after we had intended to – and the bag of mini chocolate bars and the tubes of Pringles we had for movie snacks helped to ease the pain of waiting. Because let’s face it – is there any ill will that can’t be cured by sweets and crisps? So now you have a little background on the circumstances of watching the film, let’s get on to actually talking about Home Alone.
I’ve watched Home Alone before, many years ago. For those of you who haven’t, it’s about an 8-year-old boy who is left alone in his house at Christmas while his family goes on holiday to France. It’s one of those films that I’ve seen multiple times in my life, even though it’s not exactly a “family classic”. I can even remember watching Macaulay Culkin’s performance in it and thinking that I was the same age as him (it turns out that he plays an 8-year-old in the film, though he’s a rather small child for that age). The thing is that even though I remembered enjoying it when I was younger, I wasn’t so sure I’d like it so much this time around. All I could really remember was a lot of slapstick humour – and then there was still the negative impression of the Home Alone series that Home Alone 4 had scarred into my brain more recently.
But the difference between the original Home Alone and all its successors is that, while the former had a genuine sense of Christmas spirit and an original plot, the Home Alone films that came after it simply took the gimmick of a kid being left on his own and milked and milked it until it bled – completely disregarding the underlying theme of the film as they did so. It turns out that the first and best Home Alone is really a rather good film. In fact, there are some aspects of it that you appreciate even more when you get older.
One of the most – if not the most – famous things about Home Alone is the role Macaulay Culkin plays in it. It’s the part he is most famous for playing, and his screaming expression on the movie’s posters and DVD covers is a fairly iconic one. The fact that his character is home alone the majority of the time means that he has to provide much of the film’s entertainment himself. You would think that such a dependence on a child actor in a film could be severely irritating, but Home Alone pulls it off. Culkin’s character, Kevin, is a precocious, imaginative, and amusing child. Though it’s easy to feel sorry for him at the initial start of the film – when his family neglect, insult, and abandon him – he doesn’t wallow in self-pity and he takes advantage of the situation when he has the house to himself in a way many children would also do. However, Kevin is a multi-dimensional character. Though he at first likes having the house to himself, and uses his freedom to eat rubbishy food, watch violent films, and generally just mess around without adult supervision, he gradually becomes more responsible as the film wears on. He goes to the supermarket and gets the shopping by himself, does the washing at home, and puts up the Christmas decorations even though his family isn’t there. After a while, he begins to miss his family, and wishes for them to come back. He’s a very mature and intelligent child, but he is also very much a kid. The well-roundedness and development of Kevin during the film is one of the things I think makes it of a better standard that other gimmicky films centred on child actors.
Throughout the film, Kevin is stalked by a pair of house burglars, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, who initially only want to rob his house but gradually develop personal grudges against Kevin after he continuously thwarts their plans. When they try to break into Kevin’s house at one point in the film, they are assaulted by a variety of traps the boy has already set up for them. For me, slapstick humour is a real hit or miss (no pun intended). In a children’s film, it can often come across as having been stuck in uncomfortably in order to give the kids some easy-to-understand laughs. That said, I laughed out loud when the burglars, Harry and Marv, are beaten up at the hands of Kevin’s plans – including paint buckets swinging into their heads, tarred staircases, and boiling hot door handles. I think the part of the film that makes the pain Harry and Marv go through funny, rather than unpleasant, is the fact that they are constantly going on about hurting Kevin whilst they are being injured themselves. They’re trying to harm a child, and we’re all so aware of how wrong that is that we don’t mind – and even gain entertainment from – seeing them pummelled in creative ways.
Additionally, there were three things in particular that I noticed about the film this time around that I don’t remember ever paying much attention to when I watched it before. First, there’s the music. The score was done by John Williams, and it’s fairly safe to say he did a fantastic job. Most of the film’s music is made up of famous Christmas music or instrumental tunes with Christmassy sounds, such as bells and the like. There’s a song for the dramatic preparation for the night Harry and Marv break into the house, the light-hearted walloping of the would-be burglars, and every event in-between. The use of the choir’s singing in the film is especially haunting, which brings me to my next topic: the religious aspect of the film.
Being an atheist, I usually prefer Christmas films without too much emphasis on the “Christ” part of the holiday. Films that are overtly moralistic or preachy irk me, and so the frequent references to Christianity in Home Alone might have made me expect to be annoyed by the film if I had remembered they were there. Naturally, I would have been wrong. The religious mentions in Home Alone are subtle and meaningful, and didn’t bother me in the slightest. The church that Kevin visits at least twice during the film features prominently as a protective, forgiving place, and I liked the way the film-makers managed to show it with all the intimidating, awesome feeling that such large religious buildings can have on children (or at least had on me). One of the film’s most important events occurs in a church, and that is related to my third topic: “Old Man” Marley.
Old Man Marley is introduced from a distance as a creepy-looking elderly guy who wears black clothes and is rarely seen without his shovel, which he uses to throw salt on the snow covering people’s drives in winter. We’re told about the rumours that he killed people with the aforementioned shovel, and so Kevin spends the first two thirds of the film being terrified of the old man. When Kevin and Marley come across each other at the church, however, the former learns that rumoured killer is actually a kind man who watches his granddaughter sing in the choir and is troubled by his poor relationship with his son. Kevin’s change of opinion when it comes to Old Man Marley, and later the elder gentleman’s reunion with his son, is one of the most moving parts of the film.
All in all, I really enjoyed watching Home Alone this time around and would definitely see it again. Culkin’s acting and the development of his character, coupled with the film’s poignant theme, kept it from becoming cheap or shallow. It also had a great Christmassy vibe that made me especially glad I put it on the list.
Overall rating: 7/10
Christmassy-ness rating: 8/10
Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG
Tomorrow’s film: Die Hard