You know, in my last review, of Home Alone 3, I was kind of condescending to this film without seeing it, something I keep telling people not to do. But sometimes you just can’t help it. This sixth instalment seemed like another direct-to-dvd-value feature after two sequels of the same way of advertisement that were both seen as unforgivably cheap cash-grabs with no heart and all capitalization on the kid-magnetizing slapstick concept. It’s no wonder Daniel Stern, the original Marv, called the concept of Home Alone 4 “an insult, total garbage” when asked to reprise his role. The only reason I decided to watch Home Sweet Home Alone (I knew, as a fan of the original trilogy that my curiosity would make me try it out eventually but not, like, now) was because it was the first movie in the franchise in almost 25 years that got critics paying attention. So I decided, you know what, I’m a critic too. I was still expecting to hate this film.
And I did, at first. It’s got loads of problems that made me wish mightily I could’ve been at the discussion table to inject some sense into it. But it’s actually not a disaster, and there are a few applaudable qualities to it.
Archie Yates from Jojo Rabbit plays the new kid with the house to defend, and is the first of British origin to carry the torch, if you may. Maxwell Mercer is the new name you can add to the list of Kevin McCallister, Alex Pruitt and Finn Baxter. Having just moved in to their new house two months ago, him and his mother Carol (Aisling Bea) end up with a house full of their big family just before they all plan to spend their Christmas in Tokyo. Due to a snowstorm, plane flights have to be last-minute reconfigured and Carol is put on an earlier flight. Max ends up tired out that night, of all the noise of the rest of the family, and camps out in one of the cars (a BMW) with a built-in television so he can indulge himself. The rest of the less caring family wakes up that morning, and either they don’t notice Max or assume he was on the flight with his mother. And they all head out, leaving a Max who slept through it all in the car to have the whole house to himself.
Meanwhile, there’s a different local family with a bit of a nightmare before Christmas on their hands. Ellie Kemper (who I know best from Bridesmaids) and Rob Delaney (who I know best as Peter from Deadpool 2) play Pam and Jeff McKenzie. Pam is a schoolteacher and Jeff is a, uh…former data migration manager. I guess to make sure data goes through properly to new systems with a human viewpoint. Jeff blames “the cloud” for his occupation becoming obsolete, and while it’s definitely not really a proper job, it’s good to have those skills just in case. Technology can be pesky beneath the gloss. Anyway, Carol and Max originally went to their house when they were having an open house because Max really needed to tinkle. And they’re having an open house (but keeping it a secret from their kids) because Pam can’t afford the house on her own and Jeff hasn’t been able to find work. One day Jeff finds out through eBay that out of his mother’s collection of dolls, which they keep because rare ones could one day be worth a lot of money, that a particular one with its head accidentally upside down is worth 200 grand. How does that tie into Carol and Max? Well, it leads to some familiar hijinkery to those who know the source material.
Now, a fair bit of this film is so bad, you might wonder after the first thirty minutes how on earth I could be giving this as lenient a grade as a C. For starters, the movie falls victim to an exaggerated analogy that seems to be going around in kids movies these days; make everything faster and pluckier because kids these days have short attention spans. The start of this movie really speeds past why Max is so unhappy in his household full of people, who we barely see single glimpses of. Then it speeds past how much Max really loves his family when he’s alone and how much he misses them. It felt as if twenty minutes were shaved off post-production, of Max coming to grips with how much his family means to him. The original Home Alone, and the second one, didn’t do this, and both are regarded as classics to this day. They took the time to display why life was so rough for Macaulay Culkin’s character and how he felt he needed a break from his family, while also reminding us of why kids dream about having the total power of adult-free freedom. Why would anyone think a new entry removing this character development would be a refreshing change?
Rob Delaney tries, and fails miserably, at being a funny idiot. The antagonists in the other Home Alone movies (well, the first three) were geniuses by comparison, because it’s not really that the others were idiots. It’s more like they were underestimating of whatever kid was out against them and weren’t prepared for the mounted defence. Delaney’s character is so off-kilt at the current world, he appears as through he got his head hit really hard a long time ago, and it’s not funny. A more effective way to make him likably bumbling would’ve been to reveal details of a rough past in the workforce, and how he has too much self-doubt to go back into a work field he feels pigeonholed in or something. And believe it or not, if the screenplay was more gentle in his idiocy, it would’ve been more funny. Not that it is funny to begin with.
Something that was making me dislike the movie even more were the methods in which it brought back the original soundtrack. It was fun to hear, but if you don’t have good visuals and story to go with it, it can feel more like desperation trying to say you’re worthy of standing alongside the originals when you aren’t really. You might at this point be thinking…so…what made you not hate the movie, William? The booby traps? Well, they were fun enough. They weren’t boring, and even inventive. (One of them involving a VR headset stretches it a little.) There’s also a cameo that’s a lot of fun. And some of the throwbacks to the original Home Alone movies are somewhat affectionate. Especially a crack on what in the world could possibly be more painful than walking on Legos with bare feet. I also liked a line about being self-aware it was a sequel not expecting to be as beloved as the original. But what was truly decent in Home Sweet Home Alone was the direction the story goes, and leads to. Without giving too much away, two-thirds in, I realized if it was going to go a certain way, I would hate this movie perhaps more than any other movie in existence, but if it didn’t…
This might sound like I was digging for something, anything, to not hate on this movie, like I would be bribed some kind of benefit by not trashing it, but the choices this movie makes to conclude made me realize the angle the movie was going for, and I became on board with it. A twist I didn’t see coming works effectively enough. When the movie ended, I was actually in a good mood. Some shortcomings still happen in the ending (I once again wish there was just more conversation) but it sent a message of forgiveness that’s actually effectively sweet without tasting like fruitcake. The ending even makes one of the things I found flat-out weird (it has to do with a German grandmother) a little amusing looking back. Sometimes when a movie does something right effectively enough, it makes flaws more forgiving.
If the movie did the things I mentioned, I would’ve even recommended it. I’ll leave it off by saying I don’t think there’s anyone who will say Home Sweet Home Alone tops the original. It’s inferior in so many ways. The writers of this movie greatly underestimated how important the heart of the first three movies were to make them loving for adults and kids. But I recommend anyone who declares it terrible without seeing it first to just hold on a wee minute.