Film

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and its poignant discussion of homelessness

The Home Alone franchise now comprises six films, some of which are decidedly better than others, writes Hanna Flint. The second film's discussion on homelessness is particularly poignant now that we are in a state of national crisis.

One year after Kevin McCallister was left home alone and had to defeat a pair of bumbling burglars, he accidentally finds himself stranded in New York City - and the same criminals are not far behind. Image: LMKMEDIA.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of Home Alone and with the recent release of Home Sweet Home Alone there are now six instalments of the festive franchise to choose from.

Sadly, they are not all of the same quality. I got about 20 minutes into the new film starring one of the Jojo Rabbit kids before deciding it was not my bag, thought Home Alone 3 was rather forgettable and the less said about the television movie outings from 2002 and 2012 the better.

I guess I’m a sucker for the classics because no one does “resourceful child taking on low-level criminals” better than Macaulay Culkin did in the ’90s.

But while most would favour his original 1990 outing as Kevin McCallister fending off Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Sticky Bandits from burglarising his family home, it’s the 1992 sequel to which I have pledged an oath of fealty.

Not that many critics at the time of its release shared my affection. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, reunited director Chris Columbus and screenwriter John Hughes – yes, that John Hughes – with the OG cast but transferred the Christmas caper from suburbia to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. It was criticised for reproducing plot beats from Home Alone, namely the festive setting, the booby trap finale and, of course, Kevin having to fend for himself after being forgotten by his family, but I’ve always felt that there are enough new themes, challenges and faces for this sequel to stand apart.

It gifted us Tim Curry’s snooping Plaza Hotel concierge Mr Hector and his infamous Grinch smile. The scenes in which he’s duped by Kevin’s hotel room antics – first using the recording of his uncle’s shower singing and second by the strategic use of black-and-white meta-movie sequel Angels with Even Filthier Souls – are pure hilarity.

The film is also testament to Kevin’s growth as a character that he was able to pull off such a con at a major hotel and have the wherewithal to escape to his uncle’s townhouse when the proverbial shit hits the fan. What comes next, however, is the part of his character development that I find most endearing.

After discovering his uncle’s house is vacant due to renovations, Kevin becomes scared by New York’s nightlife and heads to Central Park where he runs into the Pigeon Lady, played by Brenda Fricker. She’s a woman who is homeless, who Kevin at first believes is going to cause harm, which prompts him to bellow out a few of his famous wide-mouthed screams.

That is, until he realises the Pigeon Lady just wants to help him and they soon bond in the attic of Carnegie Hall. Now, it did and still does strike me as a little odd that we never find out the woman’s name but maybe that’s because she represents the thousands of nameless unhoused people we see every day struggling to survive on our streets.

“People pass me in the street; they see me but they try to ignore me,” she tells Kevin. “They’d prefer I wasn’t part of this city.”

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In England alone, rough sleepers were part of an estimated 200,000 experiencing homelessness in 2021, according to the charity Crisis.

Every day, we make snap judgements about why these human beings are there, rarely thinking about the unfortunate circumstances that might have led to their displacement. For Pigeon Lady it was the breakdown of her marriage.

“I wasn’t always like this, you know. I had a job, I had a home, I had a family,” she says. “The man I loved fell out of love with me. That broke my heart… I stopped trusting people.”

For others, financial troubles, health issues, domestic violence, the pandemic or other dire straits could have been the catalyst for their worsening luck, rather than it simply being a case of drug or alcohol addiction, which is too often the assumption. Doing a volunteer overnight shift for Crisis at one of their Christmas centres reinforces that understanding.

There are a plethora of issues that can contribute to a person’s homelessness and it doesn’t help if we dehumanise them by pretending they don’t exist. I reckon we could all take a leaf out of Kevin’s book. He offers to buy Pigeon Lady a hot chocolate after realising his error in judgement. There are certainly enough coffee shops dotted around to do such a small, nice thing too and it just might make that person feel visible at what can be a rather lonely and cold time of year.

Hanna Flint is a film and TV critic @HannaFlint.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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