Posted on December 6th, 2013
Usually when you watch a film, your reaction to it is all tangled up in what’s going on in your life at the time. Having had a pretty good day can see you declare The Holiday a filmic masterpiece (it’s not far off but come on: Jack Black is in it), while being a bit hungry and without easy access to snacks can mean that Citizen Kane will forever seem like the world’s longest and most boring film.
But that’s not the case with those childhood films you watched 365 times in a year, wandering in and out of the living room as they played on near-constant rotation, picking them up and putting them down as chores called or tea was ready. Those are the films you know inside out and back to front. Those are the films people refuse to watch with you because you the words spill from your mouth as the characters say them.
There was about a year when the ex-rental Home Alone VHS would be on, day-in-day-out in the Solomon household, to the point where the tape got worn out and we had to record a new copy from the TV. These days, I treat myself to Home Alone just once a year. You’re an idiot if you watch it outside the two-week window of December 10th to 25th. I’ve been known to unfollow people on Twitter for watching it in May just because it’s on Channel 4. (When I’m in charge, people who watch festive films in May will be second against the wall – right behind the people who schedule festive films for broadcast in May.)
You get a different perspective on a film you’ve seen that many times and over a period of so many years, and in Home Alone there’s a lot to love. For a while I was too close to it to see why I like it so much but now I know: it’s because, like all middle children, I identified with Kevin McAllister. I identified hard.
Kevin’s not even a middle child. He’s the youngest of the core McAllister clan so I should really think he’s an annoying, mollycoddled little shit. But in that huge house littered with cousins and siblings where no one’s really being particularly nice to anyone else and everyone’s telling him to get out of their way, he’s this overwhelmed, overlooked little kid acting out in a way that is oh so familiar. Who didn’t annoy their parents for attention, daydream they were adopted or wish their family would disappear?
Then, when he gets his wish, he handles it. Kevin handles adult life in a way that 28-year-old me can only dream of. He knows what to look for in a toothbrush and doesn’t forget to buy milk: we are worlds apart.
And when I was eight? Galaxies. I have proof: once I was left behind in a church in France. As places to be left go it sure beats a funeral parlour but it still wasn’t ideal. In a group that included two babies, two toddlers, a teenager, two warring parents, an aunt, an uncle, a language barrier and 8-year-old me there was no need for the annoying kid from across the road to mess up the headcount, just two groups of adults who both thought I was with the other and me skulking about elsewhere.
When I realised everyone had disappeared and I was alone in a foreign country staring down the barrel of a language barrier, did I take it in my stride and foil a coupla sacrilegious burglars’ nefarious plans? If by “take it in my stride” you mean “panic madly” and by “foil burglars’ plans” you mean “burst into tears”: yes.
A wizened old nun came to see if I was ok and I choked out my go-to French phrase: “Parlez-vous Anglais?” But she shrugged helplessly and said, “Non.” That was it. That was all I had. No mannequins on train sets, no tar on the church steps, not even a quick bit of sledging down the aisle. Just tears. That was my arsenal. I was quite literally what the French call les incompetents.
Of course it was over before it had begun – they came back for me ten minutes later, a hurried shambles of a group tumbling back into the church like the McAllisters arriving home on Christmas morning except with buggies. I like to periodically bring it up when everyone’s feeling good about themselves – “hey, remember that time you abandoned me in a church in France? 10/10 parenting, guys.”
The reason I still love Home Alone so much is because I was Kevin and that was my great big shambles of a family. That was my sister telling me I’m useless, my mum accusing me of being the only one to make trouble, my brother refusing to share his room with me, my uncle hissing “Look what you did, you little jerk”.
That’s exactly what it was like to be a kid. And, hey, when you move away from home and you forget how it felt to be little and surrounded by people you love and loathe in equal measure, the only people you are ever really your real self around, being reminded of all that is pretty great.