“Last time we all tried to take a trip, we had a problem just like this.”
It’s pretty shocking that Home Alone 2: Lost in New York holds up as well as it has over time, and I was struck by how it comes so very close to matching its predecessor in terms of cultural impact and iconic imagery. It’s not a great film, but it’s a great sequel, and that’s one of the hardest acts to pull off in cinema, especially when the first entry was such a massive surprise hit in its own right. The structure is familiar and formulaic, the settings brand new, and the tone more heartfelt. It’s more mature, as it should be. Home Alone 2 defies reason by being as memorable as it is.
Although it predates the song by more than a decade, director Chris Columbus’ film is the equivalent of Britney Spears’ pop hit “Oops!…I Did It Again.” Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) seems to infer as much with a sneaky and cheeky grin, realizing he’s mistakenly touched down in New York City with his trusty Talkboy (which I had and loved) while the rest of the family only finally finds him missing at a Miami baggage claim. The two moments happen close to each other, and they’re both so in tune with the writing of the late John Hughes, who once again penned the script for this sequel. What makes the movie work is that it’s so completely and utterly recognizable yet so different as well, and is a prime example of how writing memorable moments is founded and grounded in character first and spectacle second. We know these people. We know how they react. But we don’t exactly know what’s going to hit them this time around.
So many little things stand-out after rewatching the film all these years later. It’s curious that Fuller (Kieran Culkin) now wets the bed from drinking too much Coca-Cola instead of Pepsi, which I’m sure that had more to do with advertising money than a sudden change of taste. I was also taken by how defined and well-rounded the new character additions were, even if some of the scenes themselves are limited by Macaulay’s merely adequate acting ability at the time. Tim Curry, playing a hotel concierge, makes his best case as to why he should’ve been the live action version of the Grinch, with the film offering no subtlety by cutting between the classic animation and Curry’s snarling, curled face. The look is uncanny. But there’s also Central Park’s wandering Pigeon Lady (Brenda Fricker) who befriends Kevin, as well as Mr. Duncan (Eddie Bracken), who’s the owner of Duncan’s Toy Chest, a clear stand in for Fao Schwarz. It’s a good ensemble.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York almost feels like it was forced to unfold in the same fashion as the original did. In hindsight, the sequences featuring the newly named “Sticky Bandits” duo of Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) don’t make much sense, and while the bits are fun in a cartoonish Wile E. Coyote type of way, the two hardly appear in the film until the third act, only showing up to get their asses handed to them again by a nefarious little kid. Most of those scenes are memorable though, and whoever thought up to temporarily turn Marv into a skeleton while electrocuted was genius, gifting us a perfect meme and gif image for the modern era. I just wish that their parts were more smoothly integrated into the overall picture.
What I didn’t remember, and what warmed my heart, was how much Home Alone 2 really tries to channel the spirit and the pitfalls and the personal perils of It’s a Wonderful Life. Kevin’s time in the Plaza hotel might as well be George Bailey’s nightmare sequence, moving from joyful room service food binges to regret as he’s awoken and wanting to live again. To be with the family he so despised. And because he’s a young man, rather than being a romance, Home Alone 2 is instead a love story between a momma’s boy and the mother (Catherine O’Hara) who claims to not have a favorite child but looks at Kevin with just a little bit different twinkle in her eye. This sequel is so corny and so dated, so limited by having to be shaped and sculpted in the likeness of its predecessor. But it made me cry and smile, and no bad film ever elicits both of those emotions at the same time, let alone independently. Good writing always finds a way. It seems like this one’s shelf life is indefinite and that, in the vein of The Wizard of Oz, there’s truly no place like home.
“I don’t ever wanna take a vacation like this again.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5