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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Little Slice of Kevin: 24 Years of Home Alone

When one considers the sheer quantity of holiday-themed cinematic classics that Hollywood has churned out over the decades, some titles ring our bells more so than others for various reasons. Consider what many feel are “the essentials,” such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas with the Cranks, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and even action potboilers that incorporated the holiday spirit such as Turbulence, Die Hard and Die Hard 2. Even Hanukkah got in on the celebrations with the hysterical yet wholly unnoticed Hebrew Hammer, starring Adam Goldberg and Andy Dick.

Still, one of the most talked-about and utterly enduring films that thoroughly encapsulate the holiday season remains Chris Columbus’ Home Alone from 1990. As a notable outing for director Columbus, Home Alone has become legendary amongst the holiday classics not only because of Macaulay Culkin’s breakout performance as the kid who takes on two would-be burglars in his own house, but because of the hysterical antics delivered by just about the whole cast – including the bumbling thieves played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Indeed, Home Alone isn’t just one of the most entertaining films that Chris Columbus directed, it’s also one of the most memorable holiday films of all time.

Interestingly appealing to both the young and not-so-young, Home Alone wears its legend status proudly on its sleeve because of the way it continues to entertain and make us laugh even all these years (and improved security systems) later. Some critics have cited the film as a study in “every kid’s anarchical wish come true,” what with the main plot revolving around Culkin’s “Kevin” character and the way in which he’s mistreated by just about everyone around him, leading to his discovery that everyone in the house one morning has seemingly disappeared. This, of course, leads to Kevin’s indulgence in all those things he couldn’t do before – eat junk food, quasi-wreck the house, watch violent gangster films on VHS tapes (remember those?), run around screaming about how his brother can’t pick on him any longer and even rummaging through that brother’s stash of Playboy magazines and cash.

In reality, Kevin didn’t merely “wish his family away” as he thinks he did; they have accidentally left him behind in the chaos of attempting to get to the airport in time to make a flight to Paris. As Kevin settles into his new life in a big suburban Chicago house all by himself during the Christmas season – which eventually gets long in the tooth, evidenced by his gradual boredom and longing for his family to return to him – he takes on basic household duties such as shopping and laundry before having to become a one-kid security force against “The Wet Bandits.” The rest is comedic cinema history, as Culkin does his best to outsmart, outwit and psychologically outmatch his foes through a series of inventive booby traps, all of which have not lost their sheer hysterical luster some 24 years later.

Upon its release, Home Alone grossed $17,081, 997 domestically on its opening weekend, with domestic box office numbers coming in at $285,761,243 and worldwide box office numbers registering at $476,684,675. From a critical standpoint the film was generally well-received – even by veteran critic Roger Ebert who, while citing the fact that in reality no kid Kevin’s age would go to such lengths of invention, also applauded Culkin’s “gifted performance.”

While Macaulay Culkin himself would go on to star in the film’s own sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – with somewhat similar success as the original – as well as some other under-the-radar child star titles like Richie Rich, Home Alone has left a blazing legacy in its wake, which makes it a quasi-standard to follow in the holiday film genre. Many fans feel the film has endured because it inspires us to look back and appreciate just how great and innocent childhood really was, especially around the holidays. Indeed, there is an underlying truth there, because when we revisit classics like Home Alone via versions such as its extras-packed and remastered “Family Fun Edition” DVD, we’re immediately whisked away to a specific (and more innocent) time and place. Home Alone, with a smattering of other holiday cinematic gems, has an uncanny ability to freeze time and remain in our consciousness because they all provide authentic lenses through which we can look at family, home and the holidays.

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