There have been some great story-tellers who have entertained children over the years. From Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, to Roald Dahl, and the wonderful individuals that helped created a dynasty of Disney classics. But, for me, none of them understood children quite in the way that John Hughes did.
I grew up on John Hughes films and, unlike every other film-maker I’ve known, his work really spoke to me as a child. I always felt he understood my dreams, fears, and what makes me tick – even growing up in a small Devon village, an entire world away from the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois, where the majority of his films took place.
It wasn’t a matter of realism – anyone who complains about a lack of realism in a John Hughes film is missing the point more drastically than one of his trademark villainous teachers. Of course someone like John Bender wouldn’t turn up for Saturday detention. But, if he hadn’t geeks like me wouldn’t have ever know we had common ground with the likes of the seemingly 30-year-old career criminal in our school, and we certainly wouldn’t have had one of the finest closing shots in cinema history.
Excuse me while I just pop out and punch the air while walking across a football field to Simple Minds.
So to bash Home Alone (directed by Chris Columbus, but written by Hughes) for its utter ludicrousness and unbelievable concept completely misses the point. This is a fantasy film rooted in the mundane. Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin in a genuinely brilliant performance) is an eight-year-old boy who wishes his family would disappear, then wakes up to find them gone. What follows is exactly how an eight-year-old imagines they would spend a few days looking after themselves.
Kevin’s parents act in the way we all thought our parents did when we were mad at them. They’re self-obsessed, stupid, and really unfair. The chain of events that lead to Kevin being left home alone (hey, that’s the name of the film!) leave us in no doubt that Kevin is the wronged party here – someone eats all of the cheese pizza he ordered, no one will help him pack his case for his first ever trip abroad, and finally he’s sent to bed early in the loft after a fight instigated by his older brother leads to carnage in the kitchen and the family calling him a “little jerk” and a disease. The genius of Hughes is that children and adults will watch that sequence and come to entirely different conclusions on who is to blame for the fracas.
Once Kevin is left at home he acts in pretty much the same way we all did when we were left at home. He snoops around bedrooms, eats junk food, and watches trashy grown-up movies. Hell, that’s still how I act when my wife leaves the house to go and get a pint of milk.
The rest of his adventures are exactly how a child imagines things would play out in this situation. Accidental shoplifting charges being avoided with a chase across a crowded ice-rink; imparting of wisdom to old men who may or may not be serial killers while listening to a choir singing the frankly awesome Carol of the Bells; and defending your house against a Goodfella-turned burglar (and the other one, you know, him) in the style of MacGyver delivering Bruce Willis-esque one-liners.
If the naysayers had their way the film would end in 20 minutes, when the number of boarding passes doesn’t match the number of passengers. Or when the policeman who goes to check on Kevin actually does his job instead of telling Kevin’s mum to “count her kids again”. Or maybe they’d prefer a film where two strong career criminals easily overpower a defenceless 8-year-old boy and murder him during the course of a burglary, and a film instead focusing on the trial of a mother who abandoned her son to die at the hands of these fiends?
These people are adults – and they are not your friends. They’re what the French call “les incompetent”. They cannot be trusted.
Instead, slap on your Dad’s aftershave, sledge down a staircase, and conquer your fears of the type of basement furnace which is a huge contributing factor to global warming. Then watch Home Alone (two Oscar nominations and highest-grossing comedy of all-time) and remember when you promised yourself you’d never be like them when you grew up.
Read the 12 Days of Christmas Films so far. If you want to watch Home Alone you’ll have to buy it. It’s already been on.