I don’t think I’m alone when I say that a Home Alone sequel isn’t something that I was exactly dying to see in 2021. Even in 1990, when the original Home Alone was released, I probably wasn’t the target audience for it. Telling the story of Kevin McAllister, the forgotten child of a big Chicago area family who accidentally gets left behind on Christmas, it was a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy for kids who, like Home Alone writer John Hughes, probably had huge families with lots of siblings and big, noisy Christmases and got sick of never having their own space.
As a rural only child (there are literally dozens of us!) with older cousins and no neighborhood children to speak of, I was alone often enough that it bordered on torture. As escapism, Home Filled With Other Kids For Some Reason probably would’ve been more my speed. In 2021, with the average household size steadily declining and most elementary school-aged kids coming off a year when they only got to see their friends through a computer screen, I have to imagine that the target demo for 2021’s version of Home Alone might be a lot more like me than like John Hughes. Loneliness seems more endemic to our current condition than parental neglect.
Yet we also live in a world where zombie IP seems to dictate a large chunk of our viewing options, timely or not. Remakes must flow! So it is we have a new Home Alone movie, Home Sweet Home Alone, the first Home Alone sequel since 1997’s Macauley-free Home Alone 3, though there were two more made-for-TV Homes Alone in 2002 and 2012. Thus, “another Home alone” isn’t exactly a fresh idea, but Disney+ sort of is, and so the latter demands the former.
All that being said: whichever crazy bastard decided to combine a Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator director (Dan Mazer) with Rob Delaney from Catastrophe, Ellie Kemper from The Office, Aisling Bea, and the chubby kid from Jojo Rabbit (Archie Yates) was clearly on to something. Or at least, this bastard was certainly more inspired than the last four or five Home Alone film creators, give or take. Home Sweet Home Alone has a unique comedic flavor that’s one part British comedy and one part American prestige television (Tim Simons, aka Jonah from Veep, also shows up playing Rob Delaney’s brother).
All these R-rated comedy heavy hitters and improvisers (combined with sharp dialogue, written by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell) make for a shockingly successful mix in this PG-rated comedy. At least for a while. Delaney and Kemper play Jeff and Pam McKenzie, a Winnetka couple on the verge of losing their house while Jeff struggles to find a job. Young Max Mercer (Yates) and his mum (Aisling Bea) bumble Britishly into the McKenzies’ open house one day, and through a series of coincidences, Max ends up in possession of a creepy antique doll Jeff thinks might be the key to solving all his money problems. But how to get that doll back??
When Home Sweet Home Alone is just a general, light-hearted Christmas comedy, about down-on-his-luck Jeff and his obnoxious brother (Tim Simons) and this odd little British kid, it’s surprisingly enjoyable (minus a way over-the-top Pete Holmes who luckily ducks out early). There’s a subversive edge to the light comedy that you wouldn’t expect in Christmas comedy. “Is it even illegal to steal back something that was stolen from you in the first place?” Delaney asks.
“Yes!” Kemper hisses. “That’s what OJ got in trouble for! …The second time.”
Yet just when Home Sweet Home Alone seems to be firing on all cylinders, you can practically hear a studio exec demanding “But where are the booby traps?!”
Ah, yes, that.
Sadly, a little kid catching adults in a series of slapstick, weirdly mean-spirited booby trap gags is acknowledged as canon in the Home Alone series. No one denies this, and yet, I have to wonder: was that even really what people liked about Home Alone? Seems to me it was more about the fantasy of Kevin McAllister being all by himself on Christmas than Joe Pesci taking a flamethrower to the scalp (though Joe Pesci really was unmatched in the field of sounding like you’re swearing without really swearing). Home Sweet Home Alone seems slightly embarrassed to have to go throw this whole Nerf punji stick rigamarole, and maybe it should be.
The logic of IP maintenance dictates that certain parts of an original work are canon, and thus must reappear in the new iteration of that IP, regardless of how much it makes sense, or if the creators happened to accidentally discover a better movie along the way. The bits of Home Sweet Home Alone that are surprising and fun are in direct conflict with the bits that are required for it to be called “Home Alone.” Home Sweet Home Alone seems like it would’ve been a much better remake of Christmas Vacation than of Home Alone, when it could’ve been free to be about a dopey dad’s clumsy attempts to save Christmas for his family rather than about a little kid who outsmarts adults with a series of painful traps.
The booby trap bits of Home Sweet Home Alone are by far its weakest element, but there are at least 40 solid minutes of pretty funny light-hearted Christmas comedy outside of that, which is probably 30-35 more than anyone could or should expect from a Home Alone sequel. Does that make it a win? Probably so.
While I was watching, it felt like the specter of an inevitable cameo by adult Macauley Culkin was haunting the entire thing, like some post-modern version of Chekhov’s gun where ancient IP is not just mined for content but begging to be congratulated for it. Perhaps the ultimate testament to Home Sweet Home Alone is that this cameo never came.