Home Alone: A True Modern Christmas Classic

Here is another great post from our guest columnist, Jason. Check out more of his writing here, and on Twitter here.

If there is one thing I love about the holiday season it’s the fact that morning, noon or night a Christmas movie is somewhere on TV. Add in OnDemand, my laptop, and an extensive holiday DVD collection and I have access to tons of holiday favorites. I recently had an opportunity to sit down recently and re-watch one of my childhood favorites, Home Alone, directed by Chris Columbus and written by the late John Hughes.

If you don’t know the plot of Home Alone then you must be living under a rock. The story centers around Kevin McAllister, played by Macauly Culkin, who seemingly wishes his family out of existence. Kevin must cope with being home alone for the holidays, as well as deal with Marv and Harry, two burglars, played by David Stern and Joe Pesichi. We all know and love the story, and have seen the movie a hundred times. However, people don’t seem to get WHY they like it so much.

The movie is much more complex then a kids movie for the holidays. The movie pairs three great movie minds together. You have Chris Columbus, directing. You have John Hughes, writing. You have John Williams, working on the score and soundtrack. They are three of the heaviest hitters of all time. They seamlessly work together in Home Alone to not only build a movie that is re-watchable every year, but a movie that is so many people can relate to. Kevin McAllister could be your neighbor, son, grandson, cousin, whoever. That’s part of the films beauty.

John Hughes is a director that is known for his use of pop songs in his movies, so teaming him up with John Williams, you get a soundtrack that defines Christmas. Williams used his own talents at composing to record the song “Somewhere In My Memory”, which of course was Oscar nominated. The song is played at various points through the movie. Williams has said the song was supposed to run along side the movie, dancing in and out of the film, to reflect Kevin’s struggles and his sorrow, while painting a very innocent and nostalgic mood. There is no denying that the song does exactly that.

It doesn’t just stop there musically though. Williams hand picked some of the best pop Christmas tunes for the soundtrack. From “Run, Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry, to “White Christmas” by the Drifters, Williams delivers perfectly. Two scenes, musically, perhaps stick out above all the rest.

The first being Kevin’s impromptu party thrown at his house, to scare off Marv and Harry. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee is used, and used well. A Michael Jordan cutout rides around a Christmas tree on a train, Kevin pulls on a bunch of strings to move mannequin’s and household items to make it seem like people are home. The second is perhaps one of my favorite moments in the movie, where Kevin is lip syncing to “White Christmas” in front of the mirror after a shower. Hughes is no stranger to amazing lip syncing scenes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off anyone?) and this one delivers as well. It is something we’ve all done, and still do. Again it is an amazing way Hughes, a great writer, takes something we’ve all done and caters it to his own characters.

I couldn’t imagine someone other then Columbus being at the helm of this movie. He is so good when it comes to handling child actors and capturing the world through a kid’s eyes. Take a look at his work writing in The Goonies, Gremlins, and his directing work in Adventures In Baby Sitting. All the movies have an amazing child (or in the case of Gremlins, child like) atmosphere to them. Columbus is known, just like Hughes, as portraying everyman type characters. And in Home Alone he does it well.

Hughes of course has his own stylistic vision of movies. If you need proof, take an 80s movie out of it’s VHS sleeve and watch it. Chances are John Hughes had a hand in it. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Buller’s Day Off, the list is endless. In Home Alone, we see instantly that Hughes had a fingerprint on the film, due to it’s location in Chicago. Hughes chooses to set the majority of his films either in the Windy City, or one of it’s surrounding suburbs. Another minor influence, at least one that I see in Home Alone, is Hughe’s use of “breaking the fourth wall”. Kevin looks at the camera and smiles, acknowledging the audience, that is breaking the fourth wall. It’s a Hughes staple, again recalling Ferris Buller’s Day Off.

If there is any problem I have with the movie, it’s the character of Karen McAllister. Kevin’s Mom in the early goings of the film seems like a raging bitch. However as soon as she realizes that she has forgotten Kevin, her emotions turn on a dime. It’s part holiday stress, part traveling at the holiday stress, and then part stress of being a mother, that turns her into the bitch, and is it a mother’s love that turns her around? I guess it is. It’s never really revealed, it just sort of turns. That is one of my only knocks against the movie.

Well that, and not enough John Candy. I forget that he’s in it, half the time. That’s probably good though, he doesn’t steal the movie, move the story. He’s just a perfectly well written, well acted background character. His polka act gets a little bit tiresome, other then that…great.

Overall, Home Alone, is an amazing movie, bought together by three of the best talents in film history. It’s a re-watchable family classic that dazzles in its simplicity. Do yourself a favor, grab the big old family bowl of popcorn, sit down and watch this one this holiday season. It’s a classic.