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After 17 movies, John Hughes had made the world as instantly recognizable as the Monument Valley of John Ford or the studio-built Paris of Ernst Lubitsch, but with a little less exotic in Home Alone 1990.
Hughes’s world consists of long, tree-lined streets made up of sturdy north suburban homes. Living in it is a family that consists of well-meaning though slightly distracted dads, warmly protective moms, thuggish older brothers, tensely postpubescent sisters and precocious but insecure little boys in Home Alone 1990.
For all its apparent stability and timelessness, Hughes’s world is a highly vulnerable environment, constantly threatened by emotional conflict within and class conflict without. All of these elements are present in the engaging Home Alone, which was written and produced by Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus.
This time, the house belongs to the McCallisters, a Winnetka family desperately engaged in last-minute preparations for a Christmas vacation in Paris. In the chaos produced by their relatives, mountains of half- packed luggage and electrical outage, the well-meaning dad (John Heard) and warmly protective mom (Catherine O`Hara) manage to make their way to the plane but missing their youngest son, a precocious but insecure Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), leaving him at home, all alone.
It’s a typically clever Hughes premise, and for much of the movie, director Columbus develops it with wit and warmth. While Mom tries to make her way back from Paris, Kevin learns to make his way on his own. At first, he enjoys the freedom of being alone (eating junk food, watching TV all day, staying up late, etc.), but soon he settles into a responsible routine and do the housework.
Hughes creates characters that are immediately recognizable and immediately likable. Even his characters are very successful, Hughes always goes behind their backs to impose a heavy moral lesson or a blunt ideological point. It happens in Home Alone 1990 with the appearance of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as two bumbling burglars have been casing out the McCallisters’ empty house. All of Hughes’s middle-class paranoia comes out in these figures, who represent an imagined urban, ethnic, anti-family threat to the white-bread purity of the suburban paradise.
If in Uncle Buck, Hughes worked to coop with fear of fighting off the deadly suburban threat of boredom, in Home Alone 1990, fear predominates. The two burglars must be fought off with a violence and sadistic glee far beyond the requirements of the plot, as little Kevin sets a variety of traps that involve blowtorches, plummeting weights and nails driven through bare feet. The attitude is ugly, and so is hilarious.
Home Alone 1990 movie seems to be nominating itself as a Christmas classic, and although it’s much too self-conscious in its sentimentality. The movie does go some ways toward to get the job done if only Hughes would learn to relax, to stop selling for a minute and allow his characters a little breathing room.