Home Sweet Home Alone
Young Max (Archie Yates) is tired of having to share his suburban home with various relatives ahead of a Christmas trip to Japan organised by his mother Carol (Aisling Bea). When he gets left behind after finding some solitude in the backseat of the family car, Max is initially delighted but soon finds himself under a perceived threat: married couple Jeff (Rob Delaney) and Pam (Ellie Kemper) who think Max has stolen a valuable doll from their home.
Did you know that there are six Home Alone movies? After Macaulay Culkin had enough, they made a third that involved terrorists, a fourth where Kevin McCallister was re-cast by some random kid, a fifth that starred Malcolm McDowell as the villain and now this, Disney+’s effort to join in on the “fun”. Because this is a premise that simply does not have legs, hence why the various sequels are really more like reboots, with scripts that bend over backwards to come up with new reasons for groups of hare-brained burglars to be one-upped by a child. Home Sweet Home Alone is the latest, and absolute worst, such premise.
Here’s the thing about Home Alone, and to a lesser extent Home Alone 2: it’s easy to go along with the idea of an inventive child basically trying to torture and/or kill people because said people are unadulterated bad guys. They’re trying to break into his house to rob the place and/or do some damage to him personally, as part of a larger-scale crime spree. One of them even wrecks the houses they burgle for no other reason than his own maliciousness. This is why the movies work and why we can follow along as they step on nails and get lit on fire and bashed in the head: they’re bad people, and they deserve every embarrassing pratfall that they get.
In Home Sweet Home Alone, the burglars are not bad people. They are a couple who are being forced to sell their home due to financial problems, who come to believe somewhat reasonably that an extremely valuable antique doll has been stolen from their house during an open viewing by a kid who mocked heir ownership of it, an antique doll that could let them avoid having to sell said home. So, they set-off to get it back. But standing in the way of these two heroes is the true villain of the piece, a narcissistic demon named in the form of a child named Max, who puts together a series of traps that leave Jeff and Pam variously frozen, burned, stabbed and with plenty of blunt force trauma. And they don’t deserve any of it: they’re guilty only of thinking the horrible child who pointed out the doll was responsible for taking it when it vanishes shortly afterwards.
See, when the people being tortured before our eyes in what could only be describe as the first draft of a snuff film, it doesn’t work. You’re not laughing at their misfortune, you’re alarmed. Combine that with a “hero” played as an absolutely insufferable malcontent, and you have yourself a production that has completely misunderstood the alignment charts. The various sequels in this franchise before this might have been pisspoor, but they understood the dynamic that needed to be in play. Home Sweet Home Alone emphatically does not, and revels in that misunderstanding. The director is even on record as saying the kid was the outright villain in early treatments, and they should have just leaned into it.
Delaney and Kemper are two comedy veterans who do their damnedest with not especially great material, and are actually ably to garner some laughs from this trainwreck on occasion. Ditto Aisling Bea, relegated here to a fretting mother with a bad English accent. But they can do nothing really in the face of the personality-hole that is the Max character. I place no blame on 12-year-old Yates, who couldn’t possibly be considered responsible for the terrible lines he was given, or what I can only presume was ill-judged direction to make his performance more annoying. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t wring anything out of this character, who, to quote We Hate Movies, encapsulates the move archetype of the “disgusting little shit boy”: a male kid who delights in annoying everyone around him, and who demands that his selfish needs and desires be fulfilled at all times. A cute British accent isn’t going to fix that. I mean there’s a scene where he tries to take toys from a church charity drive! And succeeds! This is the kid who played a Hitler Youth in his only other film – JoJo Rabbit – and damn if I don’t think he comes off worse here.
By the time that you get to a moment late-on when Jeff is literally begging Max to stop hurting him your patience will have worn thin. For the little ones, they might find some joy from the mindless violence, but I suspect even they will struggle a bit with this one: Home Sweet Home Alone is slow-paced, with the promise of the premise only really getting going with an hour gone. That’s not really good enough for this type of project. There’s nothing visual worth really talking about either, with Home Sweet Home Alone competently put together and nothing more than that. The original had an amazing colour palette where every frame screamed “Christmas”, but here the corresponding home of the title looks bland, like a showhouse the production crew where able to nab for a few weeks.
It’s hard to believe that we are still talking about this franchise 31 years on, but we have arrived at a nadir here that I would safely assume will bury the idea for another while at least. Undoubtedly someone will eventually dig it up again, and believe they can be the one to recapture some of the magic that John Hughes and Macaulay Culkin were able to come up with in 1990. I suspect they too will fail. even if they find some minor cast member from the original – Devin Ratray here, reprising his part as Kevin’s older brother Buzz- for authenticity. As it is, Home Sweet Home Alone is a largely uninspiring, unfunny and badly written production, whose misunderstanding of the idea that bad things happening to good people does not make for easy laughs is fairly shocking. Get out of here with this film, ya filthy animal. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Disney+).