The wildly unconventional plot of 1990 Christmas classic Home Alone – parents so preoccupied with making a flight on time that they leave their bloodthirsty eight-year-old son behind – was at odds with the film’s shock success, a hit so big (its $476 million gross would now be around $1 billion with inflation) that a sequel was both inevitable and logical. So came Home Alone 2, a film that envisioned even more terrible parental neglect, and then a series, with three more overcalculated escapades on top of the original, the true holiday shine of the first fading into night.
Since the trailer appeared last month, the notion of yet another one, this time with some hazy same-universe links to the first, has sparked more outrage than it normally does, an indication of both the original’s ongoing devotion and a growing impatience with revisiting and duplicating well-worn material. Home Sweet Home Alone, which premiered on Disney+ just in time for its younger target audience to watch, replay, and watch again before the big day, is a pleasantly delightful, though utterly unneeded, sequel, a tangerine where we expected to find a lump of coal.
With a writing by Saturday Night Live’s Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell and directing by Borat’s Dan Mazer, a more humorously capable behind-the-camera combination than one would anticipate from a Home Alone sequel, the picture avoids being simply another lame bot-written recital. Aisling Bea, Ellie Kemper from Kimmy Schmidt, Pete Holmes from Crashing, Timothy Simons from Veep, and Rob Delaney from Catastrophe have all joined SNL favorites Kenan Thompson and Chris Parnell in an ensemble that is funnier than expected.
The film has received generally negative reviews, but it has an incredible air of bravery about it, as if those involved realize they’re doing something that doesn’t need to exist but are making the most of it regardless.
Archie Yates plays Max, the next Kevin replacement, who is devalued and disrespected by his family, led by Bea’s ailing mother, in Taika Waititi’s largely dreadful Jojo Rabbit. He’s left behind when the family travels to Tokyo due to a bizarre series of circumstances, but the initial joy soon fades to crushing loneliness (a bit too fast this time).
His blandly nondescript display home is broken into by a cash-strapped married couple, portrayed by Delaney and Kemper, who think Max has stolen an antique doll worth $200,000 from them. As a result, there is violence.
Home Sweet Home Alone has a flat, familiar cheapness about it that soon tells us that we’re no longer in the 1990s or at the movies, but rather streaming at home in a world of low budgets and low expectations. The McAllister mansion was dressed in bold reds and greens in Chris Columbus’s original, a film that shouted Christmas in every scene.
Mazer’s follow-up is visually blander in every manner, yet no effort to revisit the series could ever come close, and coming into it thinking that way is a fool’s errand. Instead, it’s enough fun to watch the eager actors go through the motions with a wink, devoted to the absurdity and futility of the whole thing.
The script by Day and Seidell has a fun, freewheeling SNL feel to it, helped along by one of the show’s funniest MVPs Thompson in a too-small role and especially Kemper, whose brand of manic ebullience works so well here, especially when sentimentality arrives, her faux-earnestness cutting through the saccharine (unlike in the first film, the emotional kick never really comes).
When the final act mayhem arrives, there’s a slightly knowing edge to the carnage, with both invaders commenting on the serious medical damage they’re facing (a note that, in my opinion, could have been played a little more), but the traps are a little unimaginative, and Yates’ line delivery is a little mechanical in comparison to Macaulay Culkin, the slapstick becoming repetitive and ineffective. A predictable cop-out twist diminishes what might have been a more cleverly dark addition to the pattern.
It’s understandable that many people come to the movie with a lot of baggage, but Home Sweet Home Alone is a perfectly excellent and at times wonderfully humorous sequel that’s exactly what it needs to be. Will we be viewing it again in 20 years? No, I don’t believe so.
Thanks to Benjamin Lee at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.