Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54%
Critical Consensus: (There isn’t one, so I just picked the funniest quote) “’Straw Dogs’ lite.” – TV Guide’s Movie Guide
This one is a gimme. Rotten Tomatoes only has 41 reviews culled for “Home Alone,” so I’m just going to assume that a large number of positive reviews were left off in a classic case of diffusion of responsibility.
“Home Alone” isn’t the greatest script John Hughes ever wrote, but themes and emotion at the heart of the story are strong enough that director Chris Columbus just needed to pull believable performances from his cast and competently stage the third act to make everything click. One of Columbus’ directorial strengths is that he’s just as adept and creating and nurturing big screen franchises as he is at discovering new countries. Forgive me, that’s the kind of low-hanging fruit that “Home Alone” would eventually stoop to in its third and fourth iterations but not in the first one.
“Home Alone” was a revelation. It became an instant holiday classic, going right into the mix with “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” With respect to those films, “Home Alone” will eventually usurp them as the consensus nostalgic movie choice. You just can’t beat Daniel Stern thwacking Joe Pesci with a crowbar, or watching them catch paint cans to the grill.
After nearly 80 minutes of motherly distress, youthful fantasy stricken down by the harshness of the world, and lessons about the power of family, Columbus and Hughes reward the audience with what they’ve been waiting for: a contrite, hardened Kevin McCallister that just wants his mom to come home.
Along the way Kevin develops and maintains hope that his family will return to him by Christmas. There’s nothing surprising about the fact that the family returns, or that Kevin is genuinely happy to have them back. In that way the movie is just as much an adult fantasia as Kevin’s first last stand represents a child’s reverie. The key cog in all of this is Macaulay Culkin delivering one of the best child performances you’ll ever see.
The movie’s climax is one of the most iconic in the last 25 years of cinema. The movie lets go of all pretenses of reality and we witness the birth of monster. “Home Alone” turns into a home invasion movie with such imagination that it shames almost all of the horror films centered on that concept.
By fire, feathers, race cars, Christmas ornaments, and BB pellets to the nuts, the only thing more ridiculous than Kevin schooling career criminals is the fact that no one dies from their injuries. I like to imagine an alternate world where Kevin grew up to become a trainer, teaching future generations to maim and incapacitate.
“Home Alone” was far too successful to ever be contained to just one film, but it’s a testament to the film’s lasting power that it holds up as well as it does. In 1990 Columbus and Hughes avoided the trip wire and tarantula the sequels bumbled and stumbled their way through and delivered more than just a lucrative blueprint.