I was born and bred in the Chicago ‘burbs and John Hughes movies were a pivotal part of growing up. For most of us over the age of 20, John Hughes’ filmography gave a voice to whatever we were feeling throughout our life transitions. I’ve been fortunate to have danced in the library that held THE BREAKFAST CLUB, I’ve twist and shouted during a Thanksgiving parade a la FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, and I passed Neal Page’s home from PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES every day on my way to work for over three years. John Hughes movies are an important staple in the lives of any film lover, but for the residents of Chicago and it’s suburbs…it was truly a slice of our lives. Which brings me to (in my opinion) the greatest John Hughes movie ever made, HOME ALONE.
My god, could you make a more perfect movie? HOME ALONE is the epitome of a Christmas classic for the modern era. The idyllic Christmas films of yesteryear of the Beaver Cleaver looking families have never truly represented how Christmas REALLY is for the average American family, but films like Hughes’ CHRISTMAS VACATION and HOME ALONE give a far better look at the actuality of the hell that is Christmas with our families.
Okay, so maybe the idea of forgetting a kid home alone on Christmas while the rest of the 12-member family is off in Paris where the babes don’t shave their pits is a little ridiculous. Okay, so maybe the idea of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern breaking into a house inhabited by one of the most solid child actors ever is a bit of a stretch. You know what? I don’t give a toss about that. HOME ALONE rules.
First off, HOME ALONE showcases some of the best performances out of some well-known actors, and spawned the career of an extremely successful child actor. Granted, I personally think Catherine O’Hara is the closest thing to perfection the world will ever see, but her portrayal of Kevin’s mother Kate is sublime. She has a stern tone, a loving demeanor, a frenetic energy, and a hell of a lot of heart. She NAILED what it would be like to be a mother who left her child alone on Christmas. O’Hara is always dynamite in whatever she’s cast, but I don’t think we’ll ever see a performance quite like Kate McCallister. Daniel Stern had played a number of character roles throughout his career (my personal favorite being C.H.U.D.) but HOME ALONE made him a bonafide icon. Playing opposite of Joe Pesci is probably the most intimidating thing I can think of, but Stern did so effortlessly. Speaking of, Joe Pesci shows us why he’s got an Oscar on display at his house. Foul-mouthed and fire tempered; Pesci is the master of mobsters. So what happens when you put Pesci at the butt of every single joke and blow delivered by a nine year old blonde kid with a babyface? You get brilliance. Sheer. Fucking. Brilliance. Then we’re brought to Macaulay Culkin. Child actors are usually garbage, but Culkin DESTROYED this movie. He’s in just about every scene and a good chunk of those scenes he’s acting without a scene partner. That’s a hard enough challenge for an actor of any age but for a kid? You’re better off setting fire to your film. However, Macaulay Culkin is one of (if not the) greatest child actors we’ve ever seen. The kid was committed, had amazing comedic timing, and stole the show from Catherine O’Hara and Joe Fuckin’ Pesci. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?! I’ll tell you. John Hughes happens. (NOTE: Kid fell off the wagon during RICHIE RICH. But came back with PARTY MONSTER so I’ll allow it.)
HOME ALONE is known for its over-the-top and slapstick violence, the one-liners delivered by Macaulay Culkin, and Buzz’s girlfriend (WOOF!), but we often forget how cleverly HOME ALONE depicted what it was like to be a child on Christmas. The fear of the furnace in the basement, the sense of independence from making a microwave mac & cheese dinner (which by the way, looked like the most delicious mac & cheese dinner I’ve ever seen) and the firm belief that your creepy neighbor was a mass murderer. He snoops through his brother’s bedroom and totally trashes the place, he pigs out on junk food without understand the repercussions it’ll do to your stomach, and he fails to learn the glory of “double-bagging” at the supermarket. These are the aspects of childhood that are often overshadowed in films by a desire to get that perfect gift for Christmas or some other asinine crap dealing with bullying. John Hughes perfectly showcased the innocence of childhood paired with the complex struggle of wanting to “grow up” without truly understanding what that means. Simply put, Kevin McCallister is every girl on 16 and pregnant without the annoying rants or the baby. Setting this milestone around the Christmas season amped up the stakes, and made the struggle of this poor little boy just looking to find his place in his family, and the world, pull on the heart strings just a little harder.
Alas, a relooking at HOME ALONE would not be complete without the violence. You can’t celebrate Christmas without a little breaking & entering paired up with some arson, AMIRITE?! HOME ALONE is marketed as a family movie, but for the more tightwad Puritan-esque families, this one might be a little too much. The violence is very much THREE STOOGES meets TOM AND JERRY with the idea that getting decked in the face with an iron would only cause a hilariously shaped red mark and that getting your head set on fire would only leave some weird hat fusions. People bust their shit on ice covered stairs, burn their hands on heated doorknobs, smash their feet into broken ornaments, take a few paint cans to the face, get nailed with a BB gun to the wiener, among other painfully violent moments. All of these infamous violent moments don’t even happen until the last 25 minutes of the film and even then, it’s only about 15 minutes long. All of these memorable scenes were jam packed into the same amount of time as an episode of ROBOT CHICKEN. The blatant violence is a welcome contrast to the cheerful demeanor of the holiday season and if anything, it’s a gorgeous metaphor for the plotted events that cause many people a great deal of pain during Christmastime. Or it’s just an excuse to watch Joe Pesci refrain from swearing after getting smacked in the balls. Either one works.
HOME ALONE is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made and one of the best comedies of all time. John Hughes was seriously not of this earth and I am so happy to forever associate my upbringing with the likes of Kevin McCallister. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.