Seeing as the holiday season is coming up, I decided to do a review of not one, but two holiday classics: Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. They both have similar scene and plot structures, so I’ll be covering both with broad strokes.
Both films begin with the McCallister family running around the house trying to get ready for a huge (there are fourteen people going on the trip!) family vacation. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), the youngest McCallister, is constantly underfoot in the family and is never really seen or heard by his family. He soon gets into an altercation with his older brother, and gets sent to his room for the night, telling her that he wishes that he was alone on Christmas. His family then oversleeps for one reason or another (their alarm clock is usually to blame) and they rush to the airport, leaving Kevin behind. Most of the first film is then spent showing Kevin acclimating to life at home while briefly intercutting to his parents on the plane, and later his mother looking for him. Oh, and there are also two home robbers (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) that are targeting his house that Kevin has to thwart to stay alive, as well as a mysterious stranger that Kevin is afraid of. Yes, all of these plot points are in both films
The pacing of both films are very stop-and-go, and while the first twenty minutes or so of both films are fine, establishing (and re-establishing in the case of the sequel) the cast, the stakes, and the general setup, after that it gets kind of ridiculous. When the robbers show up, the pacing goes at an almost animated, “cartoony” speed. There are moments when Kevin stops what fun he is having and says goodnight to his mother that feels unearned because so little time is spent on the family. The mother doesn’t feel sincere at all, and the father is basically useless and uncaring (almost bored, really), while the rest of the family are selfish brats that could care less about Kevin. Special mention goes to Kevin’s brother and his uncle who REALLY have it out for him. I actually couldn’t wait for the family to leave so Kevin could have some peace from the cruel glares and fake happiness of his family.
The main problem with these films is that there are way too many points to focus on. Kevin, his family, the robbers, the stranger, side characters, the comedy, the drama… It goes on and on. This manages to work in the first film, because the audience is going into this movie presumably blind, but the sequel has a lot to live up to.
In the original Home Alone, more time is spent showing how Kevin lives by himself. He is a very resourceful child, and quite intelligent for an eight-year-old, outwitting adults, ordering pizza, buying groceries, and later on, facing his fears. In the second film, we (the viewing audience) already know what Kevin is capable of, and as a result, the film raises the stakes and just about everything else just to keep the audience interested. Sadly, this means that a lot of visual jokes and lines are recreated shot-for-shot and line by line in some cases, and the sequel just feels like a cash grab.
Even the robbers do not pose that much of a threat, as the climax of the film showcases Kevin booby-trapping a house so that the robbers can fall into them. Here is where a lot of visual jokes are recycled, except in the sequel they are somewhat more lethal (kerosene, really?), even though one of the robbers takes several bricks to the face at the start of the climax. They get burned, electrocuted, tripped, and feathered, all in a (yet again) “cartoony” fashion. These climax sequences last for twenty minutes or so, way too long for this bodily harm to not be lethal. I actually cringed watching most of these, because while we know that this is a film, no-one deserves this kind of torture (even though these are some pretty resilient robbers that are apparently immortal), not even these villains (who wise up and bring a gun in the sequel, even though it’s never fired) who would actually kill this child.
Fortunately there are some better parts of the films. Even though the family scenes in the beginning and the climax at the end are cringe-worthy at best, the middles of the films are pretty good (barring two similar chase sequences) and the characters within are some of the best in the films. [The always-great] Tim Curry and [the actually-pretty-good-this-time] Rob Schneider round out the supporting cast as the hotel staff, and while somewhat gratuitous, it is good to see them. They only appear in the sequel sparingly, and pose little threat to Kevin.
The “scary” strangers that Kevin meets are the standouts, and the true hearts of the films. The first film has the best example of this, where Kevin believes his elderly neighbor Murphy (Roberts Blossom) is rumored to be a serial killer, and as a result, Kevin runs into him all over town. It is only before the climax that the man’s true colors are shown. Kevin goes to a church for forgiveness and to ask for his family back and sees the man there. They sit next to each other and it is revealed that the Murphy’s son got into a fight with him and that they haven’t spoken in years. Now he resorts to seeing his granddaughter at the church choir instead of family gatherings.
In this scene, Kevin and his neighbor just talk, and it’s like they are each confessing to each other and offering the other advice and this is where the film is given time to breathe. It is possible the best scene out of the two films and the subplot with Murphy helped elevate the film for me. In the sequel, Kevin meets a “Pigeon Lady” (Brenda Fricker) very briefly at the start of the film, and later warms up to her as he did with the elderly man, but of his own choice. There is character growth, and yes, the Pigeon Lady has a tragic backstory (lost love and ran away from new love) but that doesn’t explain a lot about the character or why pigeons follow her (she apparently has a lot of birdseed).
The first film, while having some pacing problems, is a holiday classic, while the second is an overblown version of the first in every way with little heart to back it up. Suffice to say, I would recommend the first film over the second, but the second is something that the kids would like if they’re all Home… Alone…