Friday 7 December 2018

the LAMb Poll: Best Christmas Films: Home Alone (dir. Columbus, 1990)

[Written for the LAMb Best Christmas films poll]

With its 30th anniversary - yikes! - on the horizon (and hopefully a spectacular cast reunion in prospect to celebrate that fact), Chris Columbus's Home Alone remains as popular now as ever, its glorious mixture of smart quips, sentiment and slapstick seemingly winning over new generations every time. As a Christmas film, it has everything you could want: warmth and wit, a wonderfully schmaltzy John Williams/Leslie Bricusse song with lyrics about "feeling that gingerbread feeling," and an appreciation of family values that's nicely tempered by ambivalence and scepticism.

8-year-old Kevin McCallister gets his Christmas wish to have his family disappear, thereby fulfilling the desire of many a kid who's grown up feeling lost or unappreciated within the hub bub of their own household. Of course, he eventually wants his folks back - but not before he's proved himself perfectly capable of surviving without them, whether that's by braving the basement that previously terrified him, going on a coupon-savvy shopping trip, bonding with an unfairly maligned neighbour (in that way the movie advocates seeing beyond the family unit, too), or, most famously, fending off Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern's "Wet Bandit" burglars with a dazzling display of booby-trap ingenuity that gives kiddie vigilantism a good name.

I and many others who were children when the film came out aspired to be like the enterprising Kevin, naturally. And Home Alone became a turning point in our movie-going lives, a moment in which films stopped being something we went to just "to pass the time" and instead turned into an all-consuming passion. Watched and re-watched in the cinema, and then at home on video (and not just at Christmas, either), endlessly quoted and acted out, Home Alone delighted, thrilled and empowered us.

The film was a turning point for its screenwriter John Hughes, too, marking his move from teen cinema and adult comedies into the lucrative realm of family-friendly fun, and for its star, Macaulay Culkin, discovered by Hughes in Uncle Buck, who was catapulted into the big leagues thanks to his performance here. Culkin's charisma is at the heart of the film's appeal, but the terrific supporting cast shouldn't be overlooked, either, from bro Kieran as the bed-wetting cousin ("Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi!"), to John Candy at his most adorable, to Catherine O'Hara, irresistibly funny and touching as the mother who - inevitably? - feels the guiltiest about leaving Kevin home alone. (For all the comedy that it milks from extended-family tensions, the film still feels like a mother/son story at heart.)

The little movie that could, Home Alone's phenomenal box office success indicates just how strongly the picture resonated worldwide. I live in Poland these days, where I'm delighted to discover that the film (titled "Kevin sam w domu") is totally adored (Michał Oleszczyk outlines the reasons why in some great just-published remarks here), with the traditional TV screening on the Polsat network still regularly pulling in the biggest audience of the season. For sure, in our uncertain, divided times, there are few experiences more comforting than settling down to the umpteenth viewing of Home Alone and the happy reassurance that Culkin and co. will get us laughing, shedding a tear or two, and - of course - "feeling that gingerbread feeling" all over again.

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