It may be impossible to watch the original Home Alone now without getting hung up on what came afterward: lousy sequels, a new career for Daniel Stern as a bug-eyed comic, and movie after movie in which slapstick violence and gooey sentiment struck an uneasy alliance. Home Alone became such a phenomenon so fast—topping the box-office charts for three solid months, from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day—that it quickly stopped mattering whether the movie was any good. People loved it because they felt they had to, and hated it for the same reason.
That said, there is some value to revisiting this now-exhausted story about an 8-year-old boy's adventures fighting off home invaders at Christmas. Even though Macaulay Culkin's alternately muggy and inexpressive lead performance hasn't worn well, the supporting turns by Catherine O'Hara and John Candy are especially crackerjack, as is John Williams' buoyantly cartoony score. Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter John Hughes do a lot with the sense of awe and fantasy that any kid would feel if he had the house to himself for a few days, and they squeeze some not-too-unpalatable sap out of the friendship that develops between Culkin and the creepy old man in his neighborhood. (Remember what Seinfeld's George Costanza said about why he cried at Home Alone: "That old man got to me.")
But what's most fascinating now is how Home Alone fits into Hughes' scattershot filmography. Hughes was nearing the end of his prolific period when he knocked out the Home Alone screenplay—reportedly in a single weekend—and while the story feels cobbled together from leftover pieces of Sixteen Candles and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and is directed by Columbus with an eye toward keeping the budget down and the energy manic, a lot of Hughes' hooray-for-suburban-misfits sensibility survives the milling process. The chain of mishaps and misunderstandings that lead to Culkin being left behind is of a piece with other Hughes films about how the world is unfairly stacked against the little guy. Even at his hackiest, Hughes expressed a worldview that would've been fun to watch evolve. Why did he abandon us?
Key features: A jovial commentary track between a surprisingly pretentious Chris Columbus and a surprisingly lucid Macaulay Culkin, as well as featurettes both new and circa 1990.