In Which I’m Up Here You Horse’s Ass.
Where does tradition come from? This question a recurrent thought that puzzles my mind around the Holiday season. That the end of the year is not just home to celebration, but specific ritual. That at some point in time someone did something once and decided to do it again and again. This repetition, this recitation of moments, seems to give purpose to events, that the act of doing is in and of itself an experience of worth. Whether it be a family get together or a certain meal, these traditions form the links in the chain of memory, providing a tie to the past, and tangible proof of something of value being passed along. That isn’t to say that tradition is an inherent good, at most it’s value neutral and can frequently be insidious, but around Christmastime it’s as a good reminder as anything of the events that brought an individual, or family, to this moment.
All of that to say, a viewing of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a Christmas tradition for me when it really shouldn’t be.
Home Alone 2 is an unequivocally bad movie. A bloated rehash of its blockbuster progenitor that simultaneously ups the treacly sincerity and the cartoonish violence to a fracturous point that can’t be maintained. Director Chris Columbus here achieves a true godhead level of insipid big budget badness. Shoveling all the worst tropes of post-Spielberg children’s films like Santa filling a stocking with an ungodly amount of putrid coal. And let’s not forget the cameo from our now oh so beloved president.
It’s a movie not of pleasures, but instead befuddlement, constantly making the wrong decisions in an effort to install good cheer and laugh into its audience. A wide-eyed and desperate plea for enjoyment that is sung to the rafters at such key that one can’t help but feel like a bit of blood will leak out of ones ears.
So what then justifies my fascination, my close to 12 year march of religiously booting up this flick to welcome in the holiday spirit. An obvious answer is simple nostalgia, from the first moment I saw a re-run on ABC Family the repetition of the process helps imbue the sense of comfort into the Christmas proceedings. That in the course of my life in which there’s been no definitive tradition in my family (as it has been rocked by death and divorce) for Christmas. Yes Christmas Eve services were a tether, and so were family meals, and walks up and down the illuminated streets of my hometown, but few things ever stuck.
So when, after awhile, I realized that Home Alone 2 provided some form of constant. By that point I had fully bloomed into a snide teenager ready to mock the hell out of it. So the tradition entered a second and utterly delightful phase. The cornerstone of friend focused Christmas parties. It was a rightful jeering fest as we talked the piss out this deranged flick.
For Kevin McAllister’s (Macauly Culkin) ill fated trip to New York is fascinating piece of 90’s filmmaking and many of the bad decisions that cropped up during the time period. In some ways the original Home Alone felt like the full inauguration of the 90’s style of action film. It takes the premise of Die Hard (underdog stuck in a dangerous situation and has to jimmy their way out, Christmas setting) and gussies it up for the kids in the audiences. A dollop of wish fulfillment (no family means you can do what you want) and fear (what if strangers broke into your house) that made a monster hit. Proving that the structure worked no matter the context.
The sequel oddly enough tracks pretty well with the two Die Hard followups as well. Change the local but keep the premise of a person locked to, kind of, one location for the action. And therein lies the path to doom for the movie, for in its efforts to be the original but more it revels in all the worst instincts of its predecessor and general tenor family films from the time.
Firstly this thing runs a whole two hours, and the whole trapped house premise doesn’t reveal itself until the third act. So to fill the 80 odd minutes before Columbus can recycle the past, he cooks up some of the most dithering pieces of comedy and heartwarming schmaltz. For the going it looks like Kevin is gonna spend the whole time in a ritzy hotel messing with the goofy concierge (here played by Time Curry, giving it his all to a part that feels like a warmed-over version of his Clue character). Along the way Kevin learns the true meaning of Christmas by meeting a kindly Toy Store proprietor, considering the unfortunate children who must spend the holidays in the hospital, and befriending a homeless woman who has the force of will to control pigeons.
It’s all mawkish hogwash, platitudinal musings meant to mute the blow of unrestrained glee that Kevin takes in exploiting his isolation and eventual torment of The Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). It’s an unwitting acknowledgement by the filmmakers that the thrust of their film is mostly grotesque violence, and they have to balance that bitter pill with with a touch of the overly saccharine Holiday cheer. And while it’s been memed to death, the cruelty of the final act of this movie is hard to overstate. It tries to disconnect from reality with things like Daniel Stern turning into a skeleton, but the fluctuation in tone only furthers to disarray the full picture.
So what then to make of this annual lump of Christmas coal. Why, to this day, do I engage with a merriment filled re-watch. The answer is a composite of all the things above. A nostalgic hook to the past that melds into a party watch with friends that can now bleed into a nifty bit of critical analysis. This speaks more broadly to finding a way around the movies that mean something to us. I don’t love, or even like, Home Alone 2, but it’s rhythms and textures (no matter disjointed and grating they may be) have become so familiar as to bloom into a little bit of film school. Movies existing in any form are quite miraculous, and there can be worth found in failure, whether it be playful derisions or thoughtful considerations of those said failures.
And I raise a toast to Home Alone 2 and say thank you for the memories, and minor lessons for the future.
Odds and Ends
- The one true laugh I get from this is Kevin pretending to shoot the hotel employees with the sounds of the movie. The phrase, “I forgive you, but my Tommy Gun don’t,” is a staple in my friend group.
- The whole premise of this film reeks to high heaven, but is truly bizarre that the movie has to swerve to an abandoned apartment building for the climax instead of the hotel.
- It is very odd that a couple of prostitutes ask Kevin if he wants to go with them. He’s a kid, he wouldn’t want that.
- After reveling in Pesci’s work in The Irishman its kind of stunning to watch how much he was just cast as the loud mouthed funnyman in the 90’s.
- Tim Curry is the best part of the film, and you can really feel the suffer as soon as he leaves.
- I have the same gloves as the pigeon lady.
Next week Christmas is one big, foul mouthed, out of order trip in 1999’s delightful Tarantino knock off Go.