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Blogvent Day 23 – Home Alone (1990,USA)

23/12/2011

Director: Chris Columbus              Starring: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara

Ho Ho Ho! It’s day twenty three and the rollercoaster ride that has been this year’s blogvent is finally drawing to a close. It seems all the more important then to include this film in the countdown, a bona fide modern family Christmas classic if ever there’s been one. I actually find it hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since Home Alone was made but the frightening reality is that it’s been two decades since I saw this in the cinema when it first came out. Scary stuff.

When eight year old Kevin Mcallister’s (Culkin) family go on holiday for Christmas and inadvertently leave him behind he thinks his prayers have been answered and his annoying family have been spirited away to fulfil his Christmas wish. The situation soon turns sour however when a bumbling duo of Laurel and Hardy-esque burglars, Harry (Pesci) and Marv (Stern), target the Mcallister family home for some festive larceny having established that the house will be empty for the holidays. When Kevin realises his home is marked as the target of their next job he is forced to improvise a defensive plan to deal with the so called Wet Bandits (their rather idiotic trademark is to leave the taps running at every job).

It’s certainly a lot of fun and very deserving of its reputation as a joyous family Christmas classic. Nearly all of the comedy in the film is of the slapstick variety, largely at the expense of Harry and Marv as they fall foul of Kevin’s improvised booby traps that he throws together with ordinary household items and a few of his toys. It’s pure Tom and Jerry level stuff where no amount of punishment looks like it will ever do any serious debilitating harm to the pair despite the multitude of horrendous incidents that befall them*. Some of Kevin’s strategies are actually pretty cool and it’s certainly funny watching the Wet Bandits fall foul of them.

Joe Pesci brings his trademark menace to the role and while he’s not quite at Goodfellas intensity he is entirely convincing as the increasingly frustrated Harry being driven crazy by Kevin’s schemes. He’s the Oliver Hardy here to Daniel Stern’s Stan Laurel, a relative simpleton who is essentially Harry’s whipping boy and a general disaster when it comes to thinking. The pair have a great double act going on and, for me at least, bring enough serious talent to the proceedings to allow me to overlook how annoying I find Macaulay Culkin. It’s not that he doesn’t do a good job here, just that his character is annoying (although distressingly the least annoying member of the McAllister family) in the “I hate kids and don’t understand why people find them adorable” sort of way.

The thing that really hit home when I watched this again is how horrid Kevin’s family actually are. Materialistic, superficial, ill mannered – all of these things you expect to a certain extent from families on one level or another but to physically leave your kid at home is a horse of a very different colour. In their massive house in their nice suburban neighbourhood the Mcallisters appear to have forgotten what the important parts of family life are and that it isn’t enough to take your kids to France for Christmas or live off stacks of pizzas, you have to actually care about your kids too. We can probably overlook the impossibility of them all getting onto the plane without anyone realising Kevin was missing, this is after all a Christmas fantasy, but I think it’s pretty much impossible to overlook the fact that being targeted by burglars was surely some kind of karmic justice for a family more concerned with superficial materialism than humanity. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Home Alone is a cracking family romp and if it can’t bring a smile to your face at Christmas time you must be a pretty flint hearted individual indeed. Some funny gags and top notch “victims of the traps” acting really make me laugh whenever I see the film. Next time you watch it just bear in mind this one thing: dropping a turned on steam iron onto somebody’s face from a great height will almost certainly kill them and if not then at least result in a debilitating brain injury (and that’s before we get onto the subject of skin grafts).

*I have an argument that occasionally gets bandied about after enough beers that Home Alone is the film that single handedly undermines the arbitrary nature of the BBFC’s film rating system. When The Matrix was released on DVD the BBFC insisted on the removal of a headbutt from one of the fight scenes in order to secure a fifteen certificate for the film, deeming a headbutt far too easy to mimic and therefore be copied by impressionable youths for it to be seen by anyone under eighteen. This film is rated PG despite it being pretty much a sequence of easily copied booby traps being used against human beings, only with no apparent long lasting side effects. Considering at least half of all the traps Kevin employs would be more than enough to permanently cripple or maybe even kill someone in real life this doesn’t make much sense to me.

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