Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; try our new pecan marshmallow yule log, patent and FDA approval pending. Happy December, everyone; it’s the most wonderful time of the month! Despite your busy schedule of shopping, decorating, and pretending to tolerate those relatives you can’t stand, you somehow managed to find time to topple down the chimney of another JFC. We are sort of like fruitcake; nobody ever asks for us, no one knows how we came to be a tradition, and no matter how clearly you state your distaste for us we keep turning up. Every week in the month of this month I will be Nationally Lampooning a festively terrible holiday film. But then, like a Christmas miracle, I will flip the flop and confess as to why the film is precisely my particular brand of egg nog. To put the star atop the proceedings, I will then offer a greasy, but delectable snack food item paired to the film in the hopes of making your waistlines a little less merry.
This week’s sugar plum: Home Alone.
What Makes It Bad?
I can already hear the dissent and consternation from the readership at the very idea that Home Alone, a beloved classic, is somehow less than perfect. First of all, I want to thank you. Your constant doubt and wafer-thin support are the perfect prelude to my going home for Christmas. Secondly, shut up. Thirdly, I share your affinity for this film and revisit it at this time every year. That being said, if you can shake off the snowy, drunken daze of the holidays and take a good gander under the wrapping paper, you’ll find a regifted box of silliness. For starters, it doesn’t simply ask you to suspend your disbelief, it demands that you leave your pesky sense of logic and your troublesome ability to reason behind while you go on a trip to Paris without one of your children. How dare I, you ask? I dare thusly…
As far-fetched as it may seem that a mother would leave her son home alone while the family went on an international trip, John Hughes’ script actually goes to great lengths to tie up almost every conceivable loose end and pave every plot hole as to how Kevin gets left at home. I only wish a modicum of that same effort had been dedicated to the rest of the film. It’s as if Hughes, in a bizarre turn of events not seen since Coleridge penned Kubla Khan, finished the first third of the script, fell asleep, and woke up without the ability to fathom reasonable outcomes for any given situation. For example, what’s with the apathetic police force?
I think we can all agree that leaving an eight-year-old kid by himself with an ocean separating he and his parents is a crisis. But when Mrs. McCallister calls her local police department and they connect her with a department called Family Crisis Intervention, they can’t understand why she’s so upset and they don’t know what to make of her request to send someone to the house to check on him. When they finally relent, grudgingly agreeing to do their damn job, Kevin is too scared to come to the door. So what does the intrepid officer do? He tells dispatch to have Mrs. McCallister to count her kids again. Yes, because it’s entirely likely that she’s freaking out and calling from thousands of miles away to send regrettably incompetent police officers to her home simply because she has miscounted her kids and doesn’t notice Kevin standing right next to her. Did these people get their badges from Cracker Jack boxes? My guess is she then tried to call the local branch of Child Protective Services, but they were out stealing orphans to make decorative handbags. Given how quickly the police respond to Kevin’s call at the end of the film, maybe Mrs. McCallister should have said her house was being robbed instead of her trifling complaint about her young son being alone.
Or how about the fact that a small child would rather dig in and face down dangerous burglars than, I don’t know, hide out somewhere during the time he knows they will be robbing his house? When they say 9pm, they mean they will show up AT 9pm; world’s most punctual thieves. And apparently for Kevin, this is a quest so personal that he won’t even seek assistance from the kindly old man with whom he speaks just before running home to hatch his plan. Suddenly he turns into a little Charles Bronson with a serious grudge against crime. He decides to construct a series of traps designed to pummel, set ablaze, and shoot in the face the audience’s common sense. First of all, for most of these traps to spring the way they were intended, an incredibly specific series of circumstances has to unfold in exact succession. Not only does Daniel Stern have to find the open window AFTER having his shoes and socks stricken from him by the tar-covered steps in the basement, but he must refuse to look down as he climbs through the window into an unfamiliar room and then slam his feet down as if he’s claiming the room for Spain in order that the ornaments inflict harm upon him. In fact, the success of every single trap requires Kevin to have at least some prescient knowledge of the future and the every movement these two crook would make. This would also mean he should really be fighting crime on a much larger scale, or winning chess tournaments against those smug computers. Yeah, I’m looking at you Deep Blue, you 0101100110!
And let’s talk about the complexity and severity of these traps for a moment. Early on in the film it is established that Kevin is a perpetual screw-up, incapable of even simple tasks such as putting clothes into a suitcase. Additionally, this is the same kid that, even though he knows full well they were leaving for Paris the next day, believes he has wished his family away and therefore asks Santa to bring them back instead of picking up a goddamn phone and calling them. Yet when push comes to shove, this relentless little paste-eater is able to perfectly install swinging paint cans, tar a set of basement steps, and rig a flamethrower to a door frame. I also love that Pesci just stands there as his head is being burned because he’s evidently the one human being born without the evolutionary instinct to instantly pull away from hot things. You know, like when you accidentally put your hand on the stove and instead of pulling it back you stand there screaming, “OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!!!”
But I could possibly forgive the sinfully convenient plotting of the film’s climax if it weren’t for the fact that these burglars not only march senselessly to the beat of the script in full defiance of rationale, but are also apparently superhuman. While revisiting Home Alone recently, my wife and I actually started playing a drinking game in which we took a shot each and every time one of the Wet Bandits was subjected to what should have been–by all rights–fatal head trauma, or managed to otherwise survive a trap that would have killed or at least severely incapacitated a mortal man. If I didn’t know better, and I often don’t, I would say Kevin was actually trying to murder these guys. What the film doesn’t make clear however is that Pesci and Stern aren’t playing burglars, but protesters seeking to more fairly distribute America’s wealth. Take a look at the size of that house and consider that Kevin’s father is paying for his entire extended family to fly to Paris for Christmas. Kevin’s dad is a Burberry-coat-wearing member of the 1%. The Wet Bandits were staging their Occupy The McCallister House protest when Kevin, who has been brainwashed into believing material possessions are more important than human life, seeks to inflict his own brand of brutality on them. What we don’t see is years later when Kevin, dripping with abandonment issues after being left by his family not once, but twice (the second time in New York City no less), grows up to be an angry, cancer-ridden serial killer seeking to punish all criminals for their base deeds with a series of elaborate traps. Home Alone 5: This Time It’s Saw 8.
Why I Love It!
Home Alone is one of those movies that defined the holiday season for me growing up, and might actually operate within that same capacity even more so now. As a kid, it represented my pre-pubescent id. Were I to be left to my own eight-year-old devices, I would have run screaming around the house for no reason, watched movies I was expressly forbidden to watch, and eaten enough, duh, junk food to make my heart explode like a hotdog in the microwave; also I would have blown up hotdogs in the microwave for fun (This is Mrs. Junkfood. He still does all of those things). I used to watch it religiously and quote every line until my parents would actually want to ditch me at home and leave the country. As an adult, I love the fact that it’s a siege movie for kids. Kevin struggles fearlessly to keep his enemies out of his fortified base with every weapon at his disposal. It’s like Assault on Precinct 13…or Assault Tamer Than PG-13. I also have to admit that it still fills me with the warm and the fuzzies seeing Kevin and his family reunite to the tune of a swelling emotional score. Home Alone takes the classic maxim of “be careful what you wish for” and adapts it to the perspective of a little boy on Christmas learning how important family is. It’s hard to be completely cynical toward this film.
Home Alone is one of those dream team collaborations that we rarely see nowadays. It was directed by Chris Columbus, who has gone on to direct the first two Harry Potter films and, prior to Home Alone, wrote one of my other favorite holiday films: Gremlins. The script was, as I previously mentioned, written by John Hughes which not only accounts for the prevalence of Chicago accents, but also explains the tightness of the plot…at least for a while. I mock the absurdity of the second and third acts of the film, because they are absurd, but Hughes really does craft some great little touches to explain how Kevin got left behind: the neighbor kid in the van during head count, his ticket and passport accidentally getting thrown away, the fact that there are two vans so the people in one van would assume he was in the other, and the power outage causing everyone to rush around in Benny Hill vision and therefore not be super attentive. I also think Macaulay Culkin was one of the best child actors of all time. He had this ability to deliver lines with a maturity that belied his years and therefore, in opposition to many contemporary family films, we were able to easily tolerate spending time with this kid for the length of an entire movie. Top that off with a terrific score by John Williams and that 500 million dollar total gross starts to make sense.
As a fan of gangster cinema, and short, angry people in general, I love that Joe Pesci plays one of the bumbling bad guys in Home Alone. It’s such a weird piece of casting, considering he normally plays expletive-spewing thugs who stab people to death with knives, pens, remote controls, mittens, etc. What’s so hysterical about seeing him in Home Alone is that he desperately wants to be dropping f-bombs like Tony Montana in a rap battle, but he’s gagged by the PG rating. He was told by Chris Columbus to say the word “fridge” and variations thereof whenever he wanted to say “fuck.” This is the reason Pesci sounds like a stroke victim each and every time he falls into one of Kevin’s trap. He makes noises that make it seem as if his brain motor is having trouble turning over. I franging fridging frocka fotching love watching him struggle valiantly against his own rancid mouth.
Junkfood Pairing: An Extra Large Cheese Pizza
The scuffle that lead to Kevin being sequestered on the third floor–which played a huge role in his being left behind–was ignited when he learned no one left him any cheese pizza; his favorite. When he is left to his own devices, he orders an extra large cheese pizza to eat all by himself. This unrepentant act of selfishness and gluttony really just makes all of us here at Junkfood Cinema so proud. Order yourself a massive pie du fromage, pop in your copy of Home Alone (or Angels with Filthy Souls), and eat it devoid of any topping…other than loneliness.