After he is accidentally left behind when his family depart for France, eight year-old Kevin McAllister must defend the family home against two rather inept burglars. In the process young Kevin discovers previously untapped stores of ingenuity.
It’s easy to see how this cute high-concept comedy, from the fertile pen of John Hughes who adds kids to his cross section of mild middle-class American tribulation, became a minor phenomenon. Its oh-so simple set-up — misunderstood sprog is forgotten in the family scrum to leave for a vacation, leaving him entirely to his own devices — hits a gold seam of childhood fantasy, the wonderful collection of what-ifs of a world stripped of parental monitoring.
That it is set at Christmas adds an inspired whisp of Dickensian hardship. And that young Kevin, played with spark and comic timing by the impossibly cute Macaulay Culkin, must face off against two useless housebreakers grants the opportunity for a succession of Chuck Jones inspired hi-jinkery, giving the film a madcap energy lest it sink too deep into sentiment.
Spawning three sequels and numerous rip-offs, you could classify Home Alone as a seminal moment, but for all its naughty mania and wish fulfilment you can feel the rough gear-changes of processed scriptwriting hard-wired for effect. How we are meant to grin with infantile glee at Kevin’s unsupervised indulgences in adult videos, ice cream sundaes and interior sled-rides. And how we must chuckle and raise a cheer over his victoriously cunning booby traps, spread across his vast wood-panelled house, that leave long-suffering Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern permanently on their backsides.
It’s an ineffective cartoon form of violence where nothing, especially not criminal hide, is truly harmed. Which lands the film with an irritating but, perhaps, inevitable conceit — that it has one baby foot in the real world and one in purest fantasy. Kevin’s peril never really hits home, he just lives in a movie pitch. Otherwise, God knows the therapy he’ll need in adult life.
So it may not be Citizen Kane, but it is a hilarious comedy (although not a very believable one there can be no eight-year-olds this ingenious) that kids will love and adults wont mind sitting through either.