There are many things I agree with in her article. Romcoms are definitely a scourge on the holiday film landscape; Love Actually is, with its stories of infidelity and unrequited love, a horrible Christmas movie, and not even that great of a film in general; and when it comes to holiday films, rewatchability is certainly key. More than anything, though, the most important factor of a holiday film is the ability to sit together and watch it with the entire family.
Thus, the undoing of the entire argument in favor of Christmas Vacation, as stated in the article itself (emphasis mine):
Reasonable people can disagree about whether the movie, which at one point features Griswold fantasizing about a fully naked lingerie saleswoman diving into an as-yet uninstalled backyard pool, is appropriate to watch with the whole family. Aside from a few gratuitously adult scenes, though, “Christmas Vacation” works for most ages and most company.
Any film that must be fast-forwarded to avoid any sort of discomfort if children are present simply can’t be the best holiday movie. In my view, the best ones must work for all ages and in all company, have Christmas as an integral element of the plot (which is the problem with Love Actually and, for that matter, It’s a Wonderful Life), and only get better with age.
That’s why Home Alone is really the best Christmas movie.
On the surface, Christmas Vacation and Home Alone aren’t that different. Both films are written by John Hughes, are about things going horribly wrong during the holiday season, and ultimately contain a sweet message underneath about the importance of family. But where Christmas Vacation takes a cynical view on the stresses of the holidays, Home Alone is much more innocent and fun.
It’s hard to overstate just how much of an impact this film had on me as a child.
Let’s examine this unemotionally first. Home Alone, the story of 8-year-old Kevin McAllister forced to defend his house from a pair of burglars after he’s accidentally left behind during a holiday vacation, stayed at number one at the box office for 12 straight weeks when it came out in 1990. Since then, it has spawned numerous sequels, video games, and toy products (raise your hand if you miss your TalkBoy). During the election, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York regained popularity when everyone remembered that the President-elect shows up in a cameo. And let’s not forget that Home Alone is still wildly popular today.
Part of what makes Home Alone enduring is, like any true classic, the emotional core changes as one gets older, appealing to both children and adults on different levels. It’s hard to overstate just how much of an impact this film had on me as a child. When I first saw it, it was thrilling to think of having an entire house to yourself for a weekend. What kid didn’t want to sled down the stairs, eat junk food while jumping on his or her parents’ bed, and run a zip line from an upstairs window to a backyard treehouse? Thanks to Home Alone, I was terrified of my basement for years, and to this day, I can’t hear the dramatic tones of Carol of the Bells without thinking of Kevin bolting his door and saying, “This is my house, I have to defend it!” As a child, Home Alone was all about the self-actualization of childhood. Kevin didn’t need the intervention of pesky adults telling him what to do and what not to do. He could shop, do the laundry, and ward off two bumbling crooks all on his own.
It wasn’t until I re-watched the movie as an adult that I realized the message of Home Alone is actually quite the opposite. Underneath its lowbrow humor, Home Alone is actually a tender portrait on the importance of family. After exhausting his indulgences, Kevin realizes that he actually misses his family and wants them back. His mother, as soon as she learns what she’s done, stops at nothing to get back to him by Christmas morning. And then of course there’s Old Man Marley, the menacing next door neighbor, whom Kevin eventually learns is just a harmless senior that wishes to be reunited with his family as much as Kevin does.
What kid didn’t want to sled down the stairs, eat junk food while jumping on his or her parents’ bed, and run a zip line from an upstairs window to a backyard treehouse?
More “dignified” viewers might turn their noses up at Home Alone’s slapstick silliness, especially in its third act. But the final confrontation between Kevin and the “Wet Bandits,” played with glorious cluelessness by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, is only twenty minutes or so of the entire film. Even though, as a kid, that part felt like the entire point of the movie, it’s actually not more than a wry footnote to a movie dealing with some larger themes.
Of course, that’s not to say that those of us with an appreciation for pratfalls still don’t love the third act. When I re-watched the film recently this year, I found myself laughing at all of the humorous moments before they happened. I guess that’s why I still love Home Alone: no matter how old I get, it still makes me feel like a child at heart. And to me, that’s what the best Christmas movies do.
Case closed. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.