Monday, 3 December 2012

Film Review | Home Alone (1990)

Responsible for turning Macauley Culkin into one of the biggest names in Hollywood for the first half of the '90s, Home Alone is now over twenty years old and has become a perennial fixture in many a VHS, and now DVD, player throughout December. And, whilst it has its flaws, the family favourite holds up pleasingly well.

Culkin plays Kevin McCallister, an eight-year-old mischief maker who, thanks to a series of unfortunate mishaps, manages to get left behind whilst his entire family head off to Paris for the Christmas holidays. Whilst Kevin initially revels in his new found freedom, things take a more sinister turn when yuletide burglars Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) target his family home.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first: Home Alone has some uneven plotting here and there, with a middle section that becomes decidedly episodic. Whilst this does allow for some particularly memorable scenes, such as Kevin using dialogue from a gangster flick to pay for a pizza before scaring the delivery boy off, there are also a few sequences which now feel somewhat tedious. Things also become a little too schmaltzy at times, with the moral message - love your family even if they drive you crazy sometimes - laid on very thickly here and there.

There's far more to like than to dislike here though, not least the performances throughout the cast. It's not hard to see why John Hughes wrote this part for Culkin after the young actor's charming performance in 1989's Uncle Buck. Culkin is consistently a likable and enjoyable presence at the centre of the film, delivering a performance which superbly fits the farcical family fun aesthetic. Catherine O'Hara and John Heard as Kevin's mother and father bring credibility and humour to their roles, and there's even a welcome extended cameo from Culkin's Uncle Buck co-star John Candy.

But the most ingenious pieces of casting by far here are Pesci and Stern as the criminal duo terrorising Kevin's neighbourhood. The two have wonderful chemistry and provide plenty of genuine comedy throughout. It's hard to believe that one of Pesci's most iconic and expletive-laden turns, that of Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, was released in the same year as Home Alone.

The film's most memorable asset is, and will always remain, the final act where Harry and Marv are subjected by Kevin to one of the most severe slapstick assaults seen in modern cinema. True, the cartoon style of violence means that we never truly believe the youngster is in any real danger, but that doesn't take away from the pure entertainment that is delivered from this section of the film. 

Ultimately, whilst it's not perfect, Home Alone manages to deliver consistently enjoyable family entertainment laid on the able foundations of a talented and entertaining cast. Two decades on from its release, and Home Alone is more than deserving of its status as a modern Christmas stalwart.


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