A young boy is left alone over Christmas, while a couple try to steal back from him a valuable heirloom.
I watched this and civilisation did not collapse. Great nations did not fall. Untranslatable ancient scrolls did not crumble to dust. Also, parts of it I actually quite enjoyed.
When Home Sweet Home Alone was announced a few weeks ago, film lovers collectively had an attack of the vapours at the thought of an original festive classic being remade in 2021. Now it’s here, and while it’s not great, no one died. In fact that’s one of its problems. It’s just too nice.
To give the filmmakers their due, this Home Alone doesn’t feature an enormous mansion pretending to be a family house, which for British viewers threatened to turn the first movie from Christmas comedy classic into pure property p0rn. Two families feature in this update, with the Mackenzies living in an average family house (one that redundancy has left them on the brink of losing) and the Mercers living in yes a mansion, but one slightly smaller than last time.
While its tagline “holiday classics were meant to be broken” is nonsensical hubris, I am not particularly bothered by sequels, remakes and reboots, beyond the bizarre idea of using the same name as the original (I’m looking at you, The Thing and Scream). It’s not important enough to get wound up about, not when I am still waiting for that John Wick / Mike Banning crossover. The original is always there, and in fact my son has now decided to go off and watch Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (on my mobile phone! Don’t tell Christopher Nolan).
In this version, Max Mercer (Archie Yates), a 10 year old British boy living in the US with mum Carol (Aisling Bea) and an invisible father, is accidentally left at home when his family travel to Tokyo for Christmas. Meanwhile, Pam and Jeff Mackenzie (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) are trying to get inside his house to steal back a very rare doll which could solve all their money worries, which they think Max stole from them during an Open House viewing day. Max overhears them talking about the ugly boy doll, and assumes they want to kidnap him instead.
Home Sweet Home Alone is not Home Alone, but it’s amiable enough fare, and my 9 year old — who for a few years watched the original and its increasingly desperate sequels (yes, even 4) on repeat — was delighted by the references to the first film when he wandered in. Some of these are explained in detail (Buzz McCallister is now a cop, played by the same actor, refusing to investigate Max’s police report because Kevin does it to him as a prank every Christmas) while others are for the true fan to spot, if any over the age of 10 can bring themselves to watch.
Much of the story is identical to the first film, but the world has changed since 1990, in technology and how we react to it, so the essential updates focus on tech and people being basically nice, even when they’re breaking into your house.
I liked how they get round the easy availability of prank ideas online, and at the same time highlight parental anxiety over the internet: Max initially asks their Alexa-esque “HomeBot” to search for boobytrap ideas, only to be told his parents have blocked anything involving the word booby. In the end he has to create his own, and while they don’t show that much initiative, we have to remember this is a world where no child has seen Home Alone but they have probably seen lots of YouTube videos.
Still, familiarity means the ones Max comes up with himself are rather dull. In fact like the vast quantities of sweets Max eats when he first realises he has the house to himself, what Home Sweet Home Alone has too much of is sugar and what it lacks is bite. The best children’s classics always have some darkness, offsetting the syrup and making the sentimental stuff more realistic, but this movie has none.
Pam and Jeff aren’t career burglars. They’re a middle-aged, married couple, desperate for money, and they’re not even stealing. They certainly suffer, falling downstairs and being hit by billiard balls, but it’s all very panto, and we know that ultimately they are nice people. Is this where #BeKind gets us? Before I am unkindly cancelled for not #Be(ing)Kind enough, a children’s film without danger teaches them only how to make a mess, and we know who has to clean that up.
Some of the comedy is jarringly dated. We don’t need another white person speaking in loudly enunciated English to someone of another ethnicity, even if the joke is meant to be on them. It’s not funny. And I could do without any more “standing on Lego” gags.
Archie Yates was delightful, charming and lost in JoJo Rabbit, where he was trying to make sense of a terrible life he’d been thrown into because of the deliberate evil of the adults around him. As Home Sweet Home Alone goes on, his character is lost but often irritating. Yates is at his best and funniest when snarking with his British mum before he’s left behind.
In fact there’s an issue throughout the film with the British and American performers having entirely different acting styles. In her scenes with Yates, Bea is on good form, and I suspect both would have been a better fit in an entirely British-set Home Alone — once American viewers got used to a tiny terraced house costing half a million quid, with Christmas decorations out front involving an inflatable stripping Santa and a reindeer with half its lights blown out.
Kenan Thompson’s estate agent Gavin is very funny and — of course! — only nicely pushy, getting the film off to a bouncy start. The best laughs come from those actors who take the thin material and work it without their characters becoming slapstick caricatures. Thompson, Ally Maki and Tim Simons (Pam’s sister-in-law Mei and brother-in-law Hunter) deliver witty performances without stretching themselves into the realms of ridiculousness.
Home Sweet Home Alone is streaming on Disney Plus.
Missed anything? Read my plot recap here.
Watch the Home Sweet Home Alone trailer now: