Fri, 21 Dec 2018
JUST as the Christmas advert, that bewildering staple of the Yuletide airwaves, is beginning to run its course as a format, the market for Christmas movies is oversaturated at the best of times – the past decade of cinema has failed to yield a true festive classic, something light, fuzzy and unfailingly sweet for today’s impressionable youngsters to share with their own sprogs when the weather outside permits it. Home Alone, which returns to UK multiplexes almost 30 years (!) after its original release, can only serve as a throwback to better times – it was the charming lynchpin of what might be termed the late-20th-century ‘golden age’ of the Christmas film, sandwiched neatly between 1988’s Die Hard and 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though writer John Hughes directed a string of ’80s teen flicks of an altogether higher calibre (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), this (literal) kid fantasy was to prove his most financially fruitful undertaking, storming the box office and elevating the young Macaulay Culkin to instant (albeit fleeting) stardom.
Belying Home Alone’s blockbuster credibility, however, was a critical tepidness, if not outright hostility; its status as a cliché of the seasonal programming cycle was far from a given, and it’s not hard to see why. After 10-year-old Kevin McCallister (Culkin) is unintentionally abandoned by his family over the holiday period, he spends a large stretch of the film doing exactly what you’d expect a child in his situation to do – very little.
The screenplay holds our hands through a confused first act, as Kevin and his hapless folks waddle from one predictable setup to the next; overall, it’s far too syrupy and polite to capitalise upon the mayhem implicit in the film’s conceit. Still, any sense of pointlessness is held at bay by the sheer effort invested in the thing. Since Home Alone’s release, we’ve never heard the end of Culkin’s puckish charisma, and with good reason – he’s a ball of firecracker confidence that raises the film well above its familiar childhood-wish-fulfilment foundations. Other good stuff has gone less remarked upon, though you’ll struggle to find a viewer who, if prompted (“KEVIN!”), won’t recall it fondly. The McCallisters’ scramble to the airport is memorably zany, and the dedicated, believable Catherine O’Hara sticks out as Kevin’s mother. Roberts Blossom adds a touch of good-natured menace as Old Man Marley, the neighbourhood Boo Radley.
The second half plays decidedly better – one might call it a minor masterpiece of slapstick farce. Kevin is soon set on a collision course with the ‘Wet Bandits’, a pair of crooks intent on ‘burglarising’ the family home; the indomitable Joe Pesci (of whom we’ve seen very little since 2000) steals the show in a rare comic turn, playing the ‘brains’ behind the operation. Those familiar with his work elsewhere (“funny how …?”) will relish the sight of one of cinema’s great baddies outsmarted by a wee boy; in 2018, the action has a delightfully un-PC edge to it (witness the infamous sequence where Culkin shoots Pesci in the nuts with an airgun).
Here is a film that rewards revisitation – while not quite the Chrimbo classic we all remember (it’s a touch on the erratic side), it makes for a splendidly boisterous ride, and the big screen breathes new life into its less consistent sections. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.