friday night movie club

Here’s the Only Home Alone Conversation I Want to Have This Holiday Season

It has nothing to do with Catherine O’Hara, Donald Trump, or sequels. Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Every week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from Vulture contributor Joe Reid, who will begin his screening of Home Alone on December 4 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch his live commentary, and look ahead to next week’s movie here.

The return of the holiday season means that, yes, it’s Home Alone time yet again. The 1990 blockbuster made a sensation out of Macaulay Culkin, gave enduring comedic roles to Catherine O’Hara, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, and John Candy, and survived decades of a bad critical reputation to earn its place in the modern Christmas canon. As somebody who has loved this movie since I was 10 years old, having watched it at least once every December-ish, I’ve come to know the characters as if they were family. Specifically, the McCallister family.

The whole point of Home Alone is that Kevin (Culkin) gets left home alone after his parents forget about him in a mad dash to catch a transatlantic flight to Paris. By virtue of this movie’s premise, we’re not meant to spend very much time with Kevin’s massive family. Its members are pretty much relegated to the opening 15 minutes, during which everybody chaotically packs and eats pizza and ignores Harry (Pesci), a burglar posing as a cop to gather intel on the houses he plans to rob. During this whirlwind sequence, we’re introduced to the McCallister kids. As one of them, Heather, later says after performing a head count, there are 11 in total: five boys and six girls. Attempting to decipher which kids belong to which branches of the family tree has become a side project of mine for my past several viewings. We know Kevin’s siblings are Buzz, Jeff, Megan, and Linnie, since they’re the ones who return home on Christmas Day. We know from Kate (O’Hara) in her scene with Harry that two of the cousins belong to the aunt and uncle in Paris whom they’re going to visit. One of those is Heather, the oldest; the other isn’t specified (though I assume it’s Rod because he’s older than the remaining cousins, and thus it makes sense that he stays in Illinois to finish his schooling). Which then leaves four remaining cousins belonging to Uncle Frank and Aunt Leslie: Tracy, Sondra, Fuller, and Brook.

There are also, at minimum, four additional McCallister cousins when we see them all gathered at the swanky Paris apartment, though they don’t feature enough to qualify for this ranking. And that’s correct: It has come time to judge the McCallister kids of Home Alone based on arbitrary subjective criteria. Some may wonder if it’s fair to appraise a group of (almost entirely) children based on (at most) two scenes’ worth of character development. But to that I say: This is what we do with our holiday classics. We break them down and reassemble them like toys on Christmas morning. Around this time each year, some people choose to argue whether Home Alone or its immediate sequel (to say absolutely nothing of the third installment) is the superior edition of the franchise. Others take to pointing out that one cameo that hasn’t aged so well. This year, an entire group of you are wrestling with the revelation that Moira from Schitt’s Creek had a whole career in Hollywood before Dan Levy came knocking. Me, I’m ranking children. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

11. Sondra (Daiana Campeanu)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

We don’t even get Sondra’s name in the film, which right off the bat makes it hard for her to crawl out of the basement of these rankings. She really gets only one moment in the spotlight, when she delivers an epically snotty reaction to Fake Cop Harry. We have no choice but to stan Sondra for stonewalling a police officer with one-word answers (Are your parents home? “Yes.” Do they live here? “No!”), but that’s pretty much all the movie gives her.

10. Brook (Anna Slotky)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

I was today years old when I discovered that the character I had been referring to as Girl Fuller in my head all these years is actually named Brook. Good for Brook! I don’t feel I was too off base with my reductive moniker, though, since both of the youngest McCallister cousins are tiny, wear glasses, and stare wordlessly up at Fake Cop Harry. Fuller gets more to do (more on that in a bit), while Brook and her perfect little flowered jumper are left to ask during dinner, “Does Santa have to go through customs?” A young child being that laser-focused on immigration issues doesn’t bode well for her future, but we should give her credit for actually running through the airport to catch the plane rather than getting carried by Frank, as Fuller is. Not to start any kind of “backward and in heels” gender debate over Brook and Fuller, but I’m just saying: I bet her bed was bone dry in the morning, too, Fuller.

9. Rod (Jedidiah Cohen)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Best I can tell, Rod is the other McCallister cousin — besides Heather — whose parents are living in Paris while he finishes up school. He gets a scene in Buzz’s bedroom, where he disabuses his boorish cousin of his more fantastical notions about French babes with unshaved armpits and nude beaches (“not in the winter”). Along with Kevin, Rod is also there getting spooked as Buzz spins his tall tale about Old Man Marley murdering his family with a snow shovel. Rod’s okay.

8. Tracy (Senta Moses)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Compared with Rod, Tracy doesn’t actually get a ton of material. Her only real character beat is to complain that she can’t find any shampoo in the house. But she gets bonus points on two fronts: For one, she’s played by Senta Moses, who so memorably played the spurned Delia Fisher on My So-Called Life and ends up dancing the house down with Rickie to Haddaway’s “What Is Love.” And two, when we check back on the McCallisters in Paris, she is intently watching the It’s a Wonderful Life French dub, in marked contrast to the thoroughly nonplussed Megan and Fuller, revealing herself to be a budding pretentious cinephile and thus a relatable queen.

7. Jeff (Michael C. Maronna)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

The first of Kevin’s siblings to appear on this list, thus the one with the lowest ranking. While we do have to give Jeff some points for being played by the older Pete from The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Jeff fails to deliver on what is a promising case on paper. He lands a particularly hurtful insult on Kevin (“You’re such a disease”), but it pales in comparison to another, more artfully delivered bon mot that will show up later on this list. Other than that, all we get out of Jeff is a quick shot of him playing a game on what appears to be a TI calculator in the airport van and, in the final scenes, incredulity that Kevin went grocery shopping. Truthfully, I wanted more.

6. Megan (Hillary Wolf)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

I confess to having a soft spot for Megan, Kevin’s seemingly nasty sister who eventually reveals a heart of gold in Paris as she expresses worry for her helpless little brother. Yes, her “What am I supposed to do? Shake his hand and say ‘Congratulations, you’re an idiot’?” is a super-mean thing to say about your younger sibling, but we can’t deny the panache with which she says it. Megan’s the mean older sis you want on your side. Notice the way she yanks the pay phone out of the French lady’s hand at the airport when her mom needs to call the police back home. Megan gets it done.

5. Fuller (Kieran Culkin)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Obviously, Fuller immediately gets bonus credits for being performed by our most celebrated Culkin. But he also has a lot to make up for. It’s tough when a character’s most prominent contribution to the culture is the widespread certainty that he will wet the bed. Fuller’s name is pretty much spoken like an ancient Romanian curse in the McCallister house. “Don’t let Fuller near the Pepsi,” the family whispers in frightened alcoves, while the camera cuts to a smiling Fuller who has just gulped down a whole can of product-placed cola. “You know what will happen.” The truth is, of all the McCallister children, Fuller wields the most power. In this case, it’s the power to change the sleeping arrangements, which is what leads to the whole farcical outcome.

4. Buzz (Devin Ratray)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

This fuckin’ guy. So yes, Buzz is a crude bully who stashes nudie magazines and firecrackers in his bedroom, keeps a pet tarantula probably because it makes him feel like a badass, and sports a spiky flattop of rust-colored hair that practically screams, “I’m going to apply to West Point in a year and get rejected.” Buzz is so mean to Kevin! His littlest brother! Why? Okay, Kevin’s acting like a brat, but that sure seems like learned behavior to me. “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass” is a wildly graphic taunt to a kid that young. And let’s not even get into the childishness of wolfing down Kevin’s cheese pizza and then pretending to barf it up. Buzz is gross! And yet … from a story perspective, Buzz is necessary. Far more so than his siblings and cousins. He’s the final dragon Kevin has to slay; after thwarting Marv and Harry and overcoming his fears of Old Man Marley and the basement furnace, Kevin finally has to win over his bully. And you know what, Buzz? It is pretty cool that Kevin doesn’t burn the place down.

3. Linnie (Angela Goethals)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

An absolute legend. Kevin’s blonde, braces-faced older sister is the subtle knife of the McCallister family. She initially fends off Jeff’s more clumsily blunt insults toward Kevin, repelling him by telling him not to pack just crap for their vacation. Then she turns to Kevin, sweet as can be, in her matching Pepto-pink turtleneck sweater set, and tells him not to worry, that their mom will pack his suitcase for him. After all, “You’re what the French call les incompetents.” The library, as they say, is OPEN! It’s absolutely the most iconic line from any McCallister, delivered with textbook shade and the kind of rudimentary French accent only a striver tween could muster.

2. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

It’s predictable, but … he’s Kevin! He defends his home from the notorious Wet Bandits! He helps to reunite a disgraced old man with his granddaughter! He got the milk, eggs, and fabric softener! Kevin gets the only true growth arc of the McCallister kids, though, sure, Buzz does come around. But every time you watch Home Alone, it’s a tiny bit jarring just what an unrelenting little brat Kevin is in those first 15 minutes. For all the credit Home Alone gets for its slapstick nature and its heartwarming ending and O’Hara’s general brilliance, it’s pretty underrated for its story of a little kid who learns to take care of himself. Kevin’s journey from plain cheese pizza and decadent ice-cream sundaes to Kraft dinner on Christmas Eve counts as progress, and honestly, part of the reason Home Alone 2 secretly sucks is that Kevin’s accomplishments in the first film are completely erased and he goes back to being the cousin or sibling everybody dumps on again. Oops, I brought up the sequel.

1. Heather (Kristin Minter)

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

The oldest McCallister cousin, Heather just absolutely shines in her limited screen time. She’s in an unenviable no-man’s-land as the only college-age McCallister, caught between her immature cousins and her uninteresting aunts and uncles. But she really delivers, acting as Kate’s right hand during the chaotic early-morning scramble to get ready for the flight. Heather performs a head count of her cousins with an organizational implacability that probably serves her well as a Northwestern undergrad. And while, yes, her head count is ultimately faulty — thanks to the presence of boundary-stepping neighborhood nuisance Mitch Murphy — she more than makes up for it when she sneers down Buzz as he tries to mess up her count and tells him to quit being a moron. We all have our own unique emotional attachments to family archetypes, but if Older Girl Cousin is as revered in your own personal pantheon of family relationships as it is in mine, Heather is the apex. She is, in fact, the partridge in the McCallister family’s pear tree, which is to say she stands alone.

Disagree? Then let’s fight. Meet me on Vulture’s Twitter at 7 p.m. this Friday.

Home Alone is available to watch on Disney+ and to rent on Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.

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