In 1990, a holiday movie was released that received roundly negative reviews. Almost unanimously, critics around the country, while acknowledging some of the film’s merits, panned the film. The film was “Flat and unsurprising”, the New York Times said. The Chicago Sun Times declared that the premise was too implausible to care what happens. Entertainment Weekly and the Washington Post gave it similarly mixed reviews. What was this middling film that so turned off critics? It was none other than the crowd-pleasing holiday comedy classic HOME ALONE.
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HOME ALONE tells the story of Kevin McCallister (McCauley Culkin), who in all the chaos of a busy house and botched departure to the airport, is accidentally left behind as the rest of the family flies off to Paris for Christmas. Far from being scared or sad, he rejoices in his newfound freedom - having wished them ‘away’ the night before. Kevin is now solely responsible for bathing, shopping, laundry, and avoiding his scary neighbor, Old Man Marley. As Kevin navigates the situation, his house is targeted by a duo of burglars who are robbing homes that are empty for the holidays. His efforts in defending his house culminate in some of the funniest slapstick comedy the screen had seen in ages.
McCauley Culkin conveys Kevin’s joy and freedom turning to loneliness and remorse very convincingly. He expertly carries the film in a role that could have crushed a lesser child actor under its weight. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are hilarious as the Wet Bandits (Pesci particularly stepping outside his comfort zone for the role) and Catherine O’Hara injects a realness and likeability in Kevin’s mother - a role that could have played as unsympathetic in lesser hands. John Candy even shows up for a brief, but funny role.
While the slapstick defense of the home is the climax and centerpiece of the film, HOME ALONE has a big heart as well. Particularly moving is the moment when Kevin finally talks to Old Man Marley in the church. Kevin finds out that Marley isn’t scary at all - that he is a nice, but sad man who misses his family just as much as Kevin misses his. We also begin to suspect that Marley knows the truth of Kevin’s situation and might be watching over him. The two counsel and comfort each other as equals while a choir sings “O Holy Night“ behind them. It is a beautiful moment and the acting in the scene is simply superb. The conversation between the two characters is really the heart and soul of the film.
This was a case where the critics missed the boat entirely on a film. The majority of critics failed to see in HOME ALONE all of the things that audiences around the globe saw. The film was a rousing success - holding the number-one spot at the box office for twelve weeks. HOME ALONE held the American box-office record for highest grossing comedy all the way until 2000, and it still holds the record as the highest-grossing live action comedy. HOME ALONE is one of the select live-action holiday films that movie lovers return to every year; defying the critics’ initial dismissal. What an audience will respond to is always a bit of a mystery, but it is always a little fun to occasionally watch the “experts” get it spectacularly wrong.
HOME ALONE fun facts - Not used to appearing in family movies, Joe Pesci kept accidentally dropping ‘F’ bombs into his dialogue. Chris Columbus solved the problem by suggesting he say “fridge” instead.
Because a real scream would have scared the spider, Daniel Stern had to “silent scream“ when the tarantula was placed on his face. He later looped the scream in a studio. He also would only allow the spider on his face for one take.
The photo of Buzz’s girlfriend is actually a boy made up to look like a girl. Chris Columbus couldn’t bring himself to cast a young girl to be the ‘ugly girl’ in the picture.
Kevin - Buzz!! I‘m going through all your private stuff! Better come out and pound me!
Old Man Marley - You live down the street from me right? You know anytime you see me you can always say hello. You don’t have to be afraid. A lot of stuff has been said about me. None of it is true.
Harry - I think we’re getting scammed by a kindergartener…