Home Sweet Home Alone premieres Friday, Nov. 12 on Disney+
Home Sweet Home Alone is a silly, confounding watch. Some of it fails, some of it soars, and all of it’ll make your head spin. This sometimes bitingly funny legacy sequel has some truly bizarre messaging and, whether purposefully meant to subvert the original’s concept or not, it paints the bandits as sympathetic and the child as insufferable and swirls them together into a chaotic pot of misunderstandings.
Yes, there was an element of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin, from the first two movies, that was s***ty too. In fact, the entire McCallister clan wasn’t exactly a beacon of goodwill and family harmony. But, brattiness aside, it all still worked because the Wet Bandits were a magnificent merge of creepy and cartoonish, allowing them to feel like formidable villains.
Here, Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper’s robbers are the heart, and also centerpiece, of the movie. It’s more their story than it is Archie Yates’ Max, whose wealthy family of 20 or so all fly off to Tokyo for Christmas. Delaney and Kemper’s Jeff and Pam are just parents in danger of losing their home, unable to afford what they need. Meanwhile, Max is mauling them with expensive LEGO sets and a never-ending supply of food and drink.
It’s the franchise’s trademark violence that makes the film especially odd. Naturally, you can’t have a Home Alone film without a third act filled with buffoonish beatings, but here it plays out like a cringe exhibit. Like, as much as young kids enjoy movies filled with slapstick, mess, and calamity, how do they feel about people who are being foreclosed on getting set on fire? Or having teeth knocked out? Not to read too deep into Home Sweet Home Alone, since the original also featured a rich kid defending his McMansion, but the background class war noise here makes it so you don’t want to see Jeff and Pam, you know, get their ribs broken, or lose, um, skin.
All of that taken into consideration, Home Sweet Home Alone isn’t the fully grotesque idea you might think it is. Director Dan Mazer (writer, Borat & Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (both SNL) craft a family film littered with good gags, decent jokes, and quirky performances adults will enjoy. When dialogue’s being spoken, it’s for the benefit of the grownups in the audience. When billiard balls are being weaponized and shot at people’s faces, it’s for the kids (presumably). And when the lead characters are a struggling couple just trying to make ends meet, and who think Max’s giant opulent manor (complete with Max falling asleep inside some blatant BMW product placement) holds the key to their family’s salvation, it’s for think pieces (also presumably).
Yates is fairly good as the precocious Max. Like Kevin before him, he’s surrounded by a marauding horde of a family. They’re obnoxious, he’s pissy, and all of it, as expected, just plays a bit differently in 2021. Max is just not set up to be the protagonist the way Kevin was decades ago. The film relies on a series of Three’s Company-style mix-ups to propel the story forward, leading three generally okay people into a maelstrom of mayhem and pain. Jeff and Pam’s mission is ostensibly honorable, though, like most cinematic victims of misunderstandings, they’re punished for resorting to sneakiness instead of being straightforward.
As far as the assault on Max’s estate is concerned, it’s almost like the dangerous traps and pranks in Home Sweet Home Alone were conceived as a winking bit — you know, ironically. This part of the rebootquel is unaltered and untweaked (unlike the rest of the franchise hallmarks) and that makes it feel like a nostalgia experiment. Generally speaking, the nods and references to the original movie are unneeded here, though Devin Ratray as a grown Buzz McCallister actually serves a story purpose.
Comedian Aisling Bea plays Max’s mom, Carol, and together she and her Max have a fun smartass back-and-forth dynamic. Plus, the usual Home Alone questions of why she can’t call him, neighbors, or the police are all answered handily tactfully. It’s Delaney and Kemper who shine the most here, though, not as human pincushions, per se, but as performers who can nail that sweet spot between kind-hearted and dim. Jeff and Pam have to make a series of bad choices for the film to deliver the barbaric endgame and both Delaney and Kemper are good enough to get us there and sell it all.
Netflix Spotlight: November 2021