The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A ben’s TEN Holiday Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Home Alone (1990)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Rated PG
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern and  Catherine O’Hara

Review by Ben Koch

Conventional Synopsis:

The McAllister house–an upper middle-class home in the Chicago suburbs–is abuzz with holiday chaos as they and an extended family of endless cousins and siblings are preparing for a Christmas in France. The youngest McAllister, Kevin (Culkin), can’t seem to do right by anyone. Each of his siblings and cousins ridicule and demean him in turn, and even his own uncle calls him a “little jerk” when he starts a chain reaction that ruins their dinner of ordered pizzas. The whole terrible day culminates with Kevin being banished to the third floor attic until morning, but not before he exclaims to his mother (O’Hara) that “families suck!” and wishing they would all disappear.

When an overnight power outage shuts down all the alarm clocks in the house, the family awakes the next morning with only minutes to get to the airport. Despite a hasty headcount before piling the dozen or so kids into a van, Kevin is left behind. Halfway across the Atlantic, Mrs. McAllister suddenly realizes her nightmarish neglect, and Kevin will need to fend for himself for a couple days while a pair of bungling crooks loot the neighborhood.

Beneath the Surface 

OK, I admit that for years I never even considered this a Christmas movie. To me, it was always a hilarious, over-the-top kid-revenge slapstick that happened to take place over the Christmas holiday. A closer watch, however, armed with the themes and experience of reviewing films for this series, revealed that it indeed fits the profile of a legitimate Xmas flick!

For one, it is a playful, not so veiled echo of It’s a Wonderful Life. While George Bailey wished HIMSELF away and saw the consequences of a world without the infinite interconnected ripples of his actions, Kevin McAllister wishes his obnoxious family away and sees the effects of a life without their impact on his life. Ironically, what Kevin seems to learn is that his worth comes from within himself, and NOT from his family!

Kevin’s family, parents included, seem so clueless and insipid that we the viewers are as relieved as he is when they suddenly “vanish” from his life. He’s so humiliated and denigrated at the beginning of the film (he’s called “useless” and “incompetent” among other things) that you worry whether there is any warmth in the universe Chris Columbus has created. Kevin goes through some interesting phases in his state of freedom. First, he indulges in all the decadent wish-fulfillment that has been suppressed–his brother’s porno mags, ice cream sundaes for meals, R-rated movies. But when all this superficial “freedom” turns out to be a little more shallow than he’d realized, a new sense of loneliness sets in. Yes, he misses his family. This represents his George Bailey moment when he sees that yes, families are messy, annoying, restrictive and burdensome, but their what we’ve got. Kevin has no guardian angel, however, to snap him back to “reality.” He has another lesson to learn first.

Or does he have an angel? The rest of this review should supposedly be about Kevin’s battle with the two moronic cat burglars who confront him, but I want to take a little sidetrack. There is a minor character in the film known as “Old Man Marley.” He is the object of urban legends among the neighborhood kids. Since he’s hermit-like and seen throughout the winter outside with his snow-shovel, he’s become the shovel-murderer. Kevin is indeed terrified by him, but when he wanders into a church one evening and comes face-to-face with Old Man Marley, he discovers he’s a vulnerable, gentle man full of both wisdom and regrets. Their conversation is the most authentic sequence of the film. It’s a break from the slapstick, the exaggerated American family, the chaotic version of Christmas and the selfish side of family. This is, finally, the warmth of the film. What’s touching is that both Kevin and Marley find themselves in a similar place, and together they talk themselves into a stance of courage.

Of course Kevin makes mince meat out of the bad guys, and there are some classic comedic scenes in this film that will live on for decades. But what’s important about Kevin’s conquest is not revenge, it’s that he’s proven to himself that he is not incompetent and useless, and that he didn’t need his family to tell him that. So we could call this the flip side of George Bailey’s realization. Yes, our actions and choices have infinite impacts on the world and people around us, but our worth, competence and value are a matter of self-determination.


Cocoa Factor = 6 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 8 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 9 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 8 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 7.5 out of 10


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

2 responses »

  1. bensten says:

    I completely agree, Matt. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Matt Stewart says:

    This movie is heavily flawed, but it’s so fun and enjoyable it’s impossible not to like it!

    Good post!

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