Monday, December 10, 2018

"Home Alone" - Maybe We're Wrong About Uncle Frank and Old Man Marley

Home Alone will always be a special movie for two reasons: it was a holiday movie released during my childhood and I kind of looked like Macaulay Culkin when I was little (looking back, the similarities end with us being blond-haired boys, but I thought it was cool at the time). While there are plenty of other Christmas movies that I love (Christmas Vacation, Eyes Wide Shut, A Christmas Story, Die Hard, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, etc.), this one has the benefit of being both a great family movie and a fun movie for adults. Yes, there are plenty children’s movies that are equally enjoyed by adults (for instance, Pixar), but this one is particularly interesting to revisit once you’ve become an adult. Which brings me to…

Who is paying for this trip, and is Uncle Frank really that bad?

Probably the most popular meme about Home Alone makes the point: now that I’m older, I just want to know how Kevin’s dad afforded that house and that trip to Paris. It’s true: as a kid, I never thought much about the trip (aside from it being weird that an entire extended family would go to Paris for Christmas), much less about the mortgage on Kevin’s house. But as an adult, at least one of these questions is easily answered.

After Kevin’s mom pays for the pizza at the beginning of the movie, she explains to Joe Pesci exactly what’s going on, but she delivers the lines so fast it’s easy to miss, especially when you’re a kid. It turns out that Kevin’s uncle in Paris is paying for the trip because he got transferred there for work, but his kids stayed in Chicago for school. Okay, but I’m still very curious about his job and the willingness to leave the kids in Chicago. Is this transfer short term? If not, does Kevin’s family have to keep housing these kids until they graduate? Or did the mom stay back? If so, where is she? Is the mom even in the picture? Things get even more confusing with the second film, in which Kevin uses the same uncle’s townhouse that’s being renovated in New York. I want to see an entire film about this mysterious Uncle Rob…

But that doesn’t explain what Kevin’s parents do to afford such a house. That’s where the novelization comes into play. (This is coming from IMDb info regarding the novelization, but I trust it, especially since I don’t want to read the book version of Home Alone for an article that, if I’m lucky, one hundred people will read.) According to the novelization, Kevin’s dad is simply a successful businessman. I suppose that’s good enough. More interestingly, his mother is a fashion designer. Sure, there’s money there, but that explains a plot hole I never even considered before: where did Kevin get the mannequins when he put on the fake house party? Even as an adult, I never questioned that. But now there’s an answer for those that did wonder, “Where the fuck did Kevin get a bunch of mannequins?”

So both Kevin’s dad and Uncle Rob are loaded, but what about notorious cheapskate Uncle Frank? Obviously, he is indeed a cheapskate. He steals airline silverware. He can’t pitch in for pizza. He just comes across as an overall scumbag. He pretty much is, but I think he catches too much crap. With the pizza, he only had traveler’s checks, so his hands were tied. And I used to think that Frank was freeloading on Kevin’s dad’s dime for the trip, but that’s not the case. When you think about it, Kevin’s mom and dad are being treated as much as Frank is; Frank is just taking an extra bit of advantage by stealing the silverware. Uncle Frank is an opportunist. What’s wrong with that?

Is this movie truly different now that I’m older?

Aside from being more aware of money and what a trip to Paris costs, as I get older I think about the violence of the film differently. Or do I? I can’t remember exactly how I reacted to all the traps Kevin set the first time I saw them, but I feel confident that even back then I saw the disparity between slipping on Micro Machines vs. stepping barefoot on a nail. Or between getting feathers glued to you vs. having your head set on fire. Or between slipping on ice vs. getting a can of paint to the face. get the idea.

I guess the main issue with the violence was always that it went from cartoonish to brutal in a family film. But that was what made it funny. I still laugh at a few of the traps. My favorite one now is Marv stepping on the ornaments. Not because it’s unique or anything (actually, I find it hard to watch because of the popping of ornaments as he walks on them), it’s because of Marv’s actions. First, who slams their feet onto the ground that way? Second, why keep walking on the ornaments? Anyway, the point is that I react to the violence the same way now as I did then: with laughter. I think it was all presented cartoonish enough to not be taken too seriously. Though I can see how some people might have a problem with their kids watching this.

The thing that has changed now that I’m an adult is that I focus more on what I consider to be odd moments. John Candy’s polka band touring the country around Christmas? Kevin’s mom going through all that trouble to make it home...five minutes before everyone else? Joe Pesci threatening to bite off Kevin’s fingers? I get into it more specifically in the Random Thoughts section, but much like many family films, there are a lot of odd moments you pay more attention to as an adult. But one thing did stick with me a bit more this time around…

What is going on with Old Man Marley?

As a kid, I reacted to Old Man Marley the same way Kevin did, with fear then understanding. As an adult, I first looked at him with sympathy. The kids make up stories about an old man who spends his free time shoveling and salting sidewalks for everyone? What dicks! I still reacted to him with understanding, but this time with a bit of skepticism. What exactly went down between him and his son?

Marley explains it to Kevin in terms a child can understand: things were said, and now they don’t speak anymore. But what things were said? It had to be pretty bad for them to get to the point that he’s not allowed to be around his granddaughter. But what if it was actually more than just words?

When Kevin is first told about Old Man Marley, we learn that the rumor is that Marley slaughtered his whole family but was not convicted because of lack of evidence. (By the way, why is Kevin just now learning about him? I get that the cousin needs to learn about him because he’s not from the neighborhood, but Kevin should know, especially since Buzz would undoubtedly enjoy scaring him.) I don’t think the dude killed anyone, but there’s a little truth to most rumors, right? I think it’s possible that the altercation between Marley and his son became physical. Maybe he hit his son with a shovel, and the rumor grew from there.

Since Old Man Marley’s wife isn’t in the picture, I considered even making the theory that he killed his wife in front of his son, but that wouldn’t work since the son forgives him at the end and comes to visit for Christmas.

Of course, it could just be like it is in the movie, and it was an argument that went too far. Still, what was said? So I now officially want an Uncle Frank movie and an Old Man Marley prequel. It’s time to stop writing about this movie.

Random Thoughts

(Note: some of these might be redundant as I mentioned a bit of it above. I was too lazy to go through it and edit it.)

Has there ever been a less convincing cop than Joe Pesci?

Those cuts back to the plane in mid-flight are way too loud.

Chekov’s firecrackers. He even says, “I’ll save these for later.”

For a long time I thought Angels with Dirty Souls was a real movie.

This movie reminds me yearly that Crunch Gators existed.

The police in this movie are ridiculously inept. No one seems to care that a child has been left behind by his parents.

I never really got the aftershave joke as a kid. I just laughed because he yelled. As an adult, it makes even less sense. Who did he do this to warrant such an emulation?

“Maybe he went in the church.”
“I’m not going in there.”
“Me neither.”
Are the Wet Bandits vampires or something?

Reading through the IMDb FAQ and trivia section, it says that the novelization explains that Kevin’s dad is a successful businessman and his mom is a fashion designer, which explains the mannequins when Kevin fakes a full house. The funny thing is, I’ve never wondered where the mannequins came from. Why have I never thought about those mannequins?

Speaking of which, the trivia section is an entertaining read on its own. Just a couple tidbits: De Niro turned down the role of Harry and some people think Elvis can be seen in the airport scene with John Candy.

That tiny kitchen TV has some bitchin’ speakers.

Now that I’m at that airport scene, that dude behind O’Hara does look like Elvis. But think about it: that would mean that Elvis, who supposedly faked his death, would then seek out a movie to be an extra in. What? Was he getting bored hiding out and wanted to flirt with danger? Also, the dude in the scene doesn’t look old enough to be actually-still-alive-Elvis.

I love that Marv says, “ascared” instead of “scared.”

Who does Old Man Marley think he is trying to get Kevin to confront his fears and issues? You haven’t talked to your son in years, you freaky shovel-slayer piece of shit!

Kevin’s school sounds pretty terrible. A kid got beat up because there was a rumor he wore dinosaur pajamas? A second-grader? But I guess it’s that tough school setting that made him such a devious mastermind when it came to the traps. Wait a Kevin the one who beat up the kid for the pajamas?

Maybe it’s the fatty in me, but it always bugged me that Kevin left his macaroni and cheese dinner completely untouched. Why didn’t he just eat earlier? He knew what time they would show up.

Man, that nail in the foot scene still bothers me. We go from nail in the foot to glue and feathers? And then to have Marv immediately experience more foot trauma?

That said, the way Marv just absolutely slams his feet down onto those ornaments still makes me laugh. Who brings their feet down to the ground like that, with or without ornaments there?

“I’ll snap off your cojones and boil them in motor oil!” Did the use of “cojones” make this line acceptable? Because...that’s a dark line.

I still love Marv’s shriek, but him hitting Harry with a crowbar soon after is still my favorite moment. The confusion of Harry coupled with the idea of someone taking a crowbar to the abdomen makes me laugh.

“Maybe he committed suicide.” What?!

You know, I don’t have an issue with Kevin waiting so long to go to the cops. For one thing, everything I pointed out is in good fun, and if most of it were changed, the movie simply wouldn’t exist. But more importantly, Kevin decides to take care of the burglars on his own because he sees this as a test to earn back his family, which he still thinks he wished away. He must fight for his home and family.

So was Harry going to go through with the finger-biting thing at the end? And was Marv going to laugh hysterically the whole time he did it? Can you imagine how gruesome that would become by the tenth finger? My God… This movie is a phenomenon of going from extremely cartoonish to extremely dark from moment to moment.

Which brings us to John Candy’s horrific story of leaving his child at a funeral home all day with a dead body, which was apparently ad-libbed by Candy. There’s so much going on there. That story still makes me laugh, though, mainly because of the ending: “He was okay, you know, after six or seven weeks. Started talking again.” But what about the rest of the band. He talks some serious trash about them. And why the fuck is a polka band on tour at Christmas, anyway? Who the fuck is going to listen to a polka band on Christmas? What the fuck is happening in this movie?

Doesn’t O’Hara look like a real dumbass showing up only minutes before everyone else?

Shouldn’t the family ask Kevin a lot more questions? Like, “Why didn’t you answer the phone, Kevin?” On that note, why didn’t they keep calling? I know the phones were out for a bit, but they were back on for Kevin to call the cops. Anyway, they leave him standing there pretty quickly when they all get home. No wonder there’s a sequel for this negligent family saga.

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