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Home Alone
1990 - PG - 103 Mins.
Director: Chris Columbus
Producer: John Hughes
Written By: John Hughes
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Kieran Culkin
Review by: John Ulmer
   
When you are a young child, the notion of staying home by yourself is fantastic. Do you remember the first time you were left alone? It was like being granted some type of unimaginable power of free roam. You were free to do whatever you wanted without any type of restrictions. The potential outcomes were limitless.

Most of the time, though, you never really did anything when you were left home alone, simply because you knew better. Kevin McCallister does everything he's ever wanted to do when he is accidentally left home by his family in "Home Alone," a film so full of 80s clichés (even if it was made in 1990) and fun it's simply impossible to dislike.

Kevin McCallister lives in an enormous house in a fancy suburb in Chicago, along with his parents and relatives, totaling somewhere around 20. They're all leaving for Paris, France, around the Christmas holiday, but the night before they leave, Kevin causes dismay and is sent to sleep in the attic. "I wish you'd all disappear," are his last words before he retreats upstairs.

The next morning the alarm clocks fail to wake everyone up, and in a frantic rush to get to O'Hare, they completely forget about poor Kevin, who wakes up hours after they leave to find the house unoccupied, the cars still in the garage (they took travel buses), and virtually no sign of habitation, believes that his wish has come true, and that his entire family really has disappeared from existence.

Kevin celebrates at this idea, which may sound disturbing in writing but isn't when you're watching the film. However, little does he know that two bumbling criminals, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci), have targeted the McCallister home as their next victim of burglary. Unaware that young Kevin is home, the two crooks break in and find themselves bombarded with a series of booby traps that Kevin has set up in anticipation of their arrival.

One of the film's strongest laughs is also the most subtle: Joe Pesci's character, Harry Lime, is obviously named after Orson Welles' famous criminal of the same name from Carol Reed's "The Third Man" (1949). The in-joke was crafted by John Hughes, who scripted the film, and is one of cinema's great filmmakers, although not many people like to admit it. His cult classic teen films from the 80s, praised for being more than just sex-and-prom flicks that we see today, have touched as many teenagers now as back in the 1980s -- primarily teenagers who can relate to the characters.

After writing for National Lampoon Magazine, he scripted a series of various films, ranging from "Vacation" (1983) and its second sequel, "Christmas Vacation" (1989), to "Mr. Mom" (1983), "Sixteen Candles" (1984), "She's Having a Baby" (1988) and his finest achievement, 1987's "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," heralded as many as not only his greatest, funniest, most touching film, but also the finest buddy film of all time. In "Planes...” he managed to reveal truth and hurt and laughter all at the same time. It wasn't a typical sarcastic comedy with one-liners and so-called witty quips, but rather the film was founded in its characters, and when one of them did insult the other (such as in the famous Braidwood Inn scene), the other managed to turn it around and reveal the hurtfulness of it all, lending a certain believability and realism to the mix. "Planes..." was his breakaway from the teen films such as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and it was truly the first film that established him as more than just a cult 80s filmmaker.

By the time the 90s came around, however, he gradually stopped directing films, drifting once again into screenwriting and eventually nothing at all (he hasn't written a film under his own name since "Reach the Rock" a few years ago). So the director's chair for "Home Alone" went to Chris Columbus, who is also often considered a typical 80s director/screenwriter. His credits range from scripting "Gremlins" (1984) to working on "The Goonies," released around the same time period, and perhaps his most widely acknowledged films of his created in this decade are the first two "Harry Potter" films, which grossed enormous amounts of money worldwide (though I beg to differ whether they deserved the success they earned, however).

Both of these men are sort of magical filmmakers, in a sense, since all of the films they have touched have turned into likable comedies. "Home Alone" has a very soft edge, and without it the film would be pretty pale. It's the greatness of the script, the expertise behind the camera and the interaction of Pesci and Stern that really makes the movie.

"Home Alone" is probably most fondly remembered for launching Macaulay Culkin into the spot of Highest Paid Child Star. I don't think he deserved it, as he's a painfully bad child actor. His best work was in Hughes' 1989 film "Uncle Buck," but even then he was only acceptable in his role because he was playing a young child. "Home Alone" shows that all he is capable of doing is reading words off screen and slapping his hands on his cheeks and screaming. I suppose, however, that is all the role really needs, as though Kevin is the center of attention in the film, his spotlight is stolen by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, who will always be remembered in my book as one of the best Hollywood pairings of all time.

In retrospect, "Home Alone" is a flawed film. It's not exactly the sort of quality material one would expect to see on a list of the greatest films of all time. But I like cheery Christmas films -- the kind you can watch while it's snowing outside and a fire is lit. "Home Alone" isn't an insulting comedy -- it's lightweight and cheery -- and it is, at the very least, a very likable comedy.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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