Home Sweet Home Alone movie review: Jojo Rabbit's Archie Yates charms you into submission in a defensive reboot

Home Sweet Home Alone is a competently mounted but unambitious film. At times, it plays like a showreel from its source material, and the makers are okay with it being that way.

Aditya Mani Jha November 12, 2021 08:04:16 IST

3/5

Language: English

In the most recent episode of the HBO dramedy Succession, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is telling Greg (Nicholas Braun) a story involving the Roman emperor Nero when the latter replies, "That’s not IP I am familiar with." It is a great line within the context of the slightly absurdist scene unfolding, but it also reflects certain shifting realities within the entertainment business, in the way audiences and creators view prospective projects. And today, identifiable IP (intellectual property) rules like nothing else, which is the reason we will soon live in a world with not one but two films about a young Cruella de Vil, for example, and why Chris Evans is doing an animated origin story for Buzz Lightyear.

These thoughts, you imagine, were definitely on the makers of Home Sweet Home Alone, a remake of the 1990 John Hughes/Chris Columbus classic Home Alone, and the sixth film in the eponymous franchise. There is even a carelessly careful moment towards the halfway mark where a particularly dislikeable character mutters, “They should never remake the classics." Disney and director Dan Mazer know that the whole enterprise is likely to be seen in that light, which is why Home Sweet Alone is essentially a defensive movie — especially in the second half, it strays only minimally from the classic John Hughes screenplay, and it lets its very likeable child lead (Archie Yates from Jojo Rabbit) charm the audience into submission.

The enjoyable third act does go overboard sometimes with its nods to the original film, but honestly, it feels boorish to be too analytical about a Christmastime fable intended for children. Once the would-be-thieves have the house lined up in their sights, and the little boy is busy booby-trapping everything (of course, this is the age of Alexa, and so the phrase ‘booby’ itself was parental-locked, apparently), Home Sweet Home Alone channels the energy if not the boundless invention of the original.

The set-up, however, takes time to warm up to: we meet the cash-strapped, perennially unlucky Pam and Jeff Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney), who are being forced to sell their house, until they discover a rare and valuable doll among their possessions. Through a comedy-of-errors sequence that feels a little clumsy at times, this doll seemingly ends up in the possession of 10-year-old Max Mercer (Archie Yates), who has been accidentally left all alone at home on Christmas Eve by his super-rich Tokyo-bound parents (Aisling Bea and Pete Holmes). As you would expect in a high-profile Christmas movie, cameos abound: Kenan Thompson is the standout among these as Gavin, a zealous real estate agent who is helping Pam and Jeff sell their house.

Among the adult leads. Ellie Kemper excels in a hyper-charged role where a lot is happening to her character all the time: insensitive sisters-in-law inviting themselves, her children suspecting the truth about their financial situation, her ne’er-do-well husband yammering on and on about cloud computing. Pam is a woman at the end of her tether. And Kemper, the star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one of the better comedies of recent times, is great at communicating that bottled-up fury, something that eventually causes Pam to break into little Max’s house.

Of course, it’s Archie Yates’ movie through and through. In just his second film appearance, Yates’ dialogue delivery is perfect, his tone just the right amount of hesitant.

When he is quarrelling with his mother, he is alternately sardonic and vulnerable, a balance many older actors struggle to achieve for very good reasons. This is a fine performance by a child who clearly has a lot to offer.

The only scene where I found myself cringing was the one where Max mimics the stereotypical Hollywood action hero’s ‘gun sequence’ — picking up weapons, ammunition (pool balls and suchlike in this case), and delivering a tough-guy line straight at the camera. "Locked and loaded," Max says. Very Texas, coming from a child whose British-ness is referred to in colourful Americanisms elsewhere in the film. It is also funny to me that Dexter, a literal serial killer show that reincarnated earlier this week, had its mass-murdering protagonist being a stickler about federal background checks at gun stores (he works at a gun store now). And here we are in the same week, with Disney asking us to chuckle at its ten-year-old, family-friendly protagonist’s talent for shooting at people.

Overall, Home Sweet Home Alone is a competently mounted but unambitious film. At times, it plays like a showreel from its source material, and the makers are okay with it being that way. This makes it efficient in the blockbuster sense, but even its keenest backers will find it difficult to remember too many of the film’s all-new scenarios or one-liners after the end credits roll. Watch it when the eggnog is settling down nicely.

Home Sweet Home Alone is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Rating: ***

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.

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