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The Rise, Fall and Sorta Rise of MacCaulay Culkin...


Acting by age 4, child star MacCaulay Culkin did light supporting work in several un-acclaimed movies, basically as a prop, getting his first real burst of attention for Uncle Buck. Another go at a heart-warming film of the sort where lost adults learn from the kids in their lives. There happen to be other kids in the movie too, but don't let that stop you. Still, Culkin was a born star, and any movie that didn't rely heavily on his draw was misusing him.

Best remembered for the cartoony violence of its final sequence, a lot more of Home Alone is just Culkin plotlessly going about his business as a kid left home alone. Eating junk food, snooping, and now that the nags are away: Trying out hygiene and chores that responsibility-phobic kids his age hate to be told to do, but feel satisfied to have done on their own.

It's not just the best film he's ever been in, but easily his best performance. Kevin has to be scared, ecstatic, devious, funny, and all mostly without anyone around to help carry the scenes. That Home Alone is a holiday classic, in the traditional canon (Miracle on 34th Street, not Die Hard), is because the film's spirit relies on his talent and beaming innocence. But everybody grows up eventually.

He was reliable in the carbon copy that is Home Alone 2, but Culkin's next few films would misuse him terribly. The Good Son tried to make him into a psychopath, and in Richie Rich, playing a billionaire's son making friends with ‘normal kids’, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself much at all. As it turned out, MacCaulay felt a lot like Richie, having been shot into stratospheric fame, hosting Saturday Night Live, working with Michael Jackson and the like. After the film's release, he retired to finish his childhood in normalcy.

Returning to acting in 2000, in something of a Miley Cyrus move, Culkin leaned towards disturbed and unpleasant characters; drug addict murderers (Party Monster), pessimists (Saved) and jealous mopes (Sex and Breakfast), to mark his quality as a full-bodied actor. It was a respectable second debut, but he hadn't exactly made waves. This extended absence from the public consciousness might be why, once he began having his own trouble with the law, publicity so readily contrasted the almost emaciated adult with the evergreen youngster their readers had remembered. Culkin received probation for drug offences, and the story is often paired with details surrounding his divorce, affiliation with Michael Jackson, and the death of his family members into a never-ending stream of “The Tragic Story of MacCaulay Culkin” articles.

But, in the years since, the powerful force of Millennial nostalgia has afforded him the chance to redefine his image online by doing just about whatever interests him. A fascination with Andy Warhol lead him to painting, eating a slice of pizza on camera for about 5 minutes, and starting a now defunct Velvet Underground parody band called The Pizza Underground. Most successfully, he's entrenched himself into internet culture that still regards him with a sort of reverence for his status as a child star, often making appearances on YouTube shows (AVGN, Red Letter Media) drawing attention to the absurdity of it all. He hosts a podcast called Bunny Ears, but still sees his best engagement when playing up the fact that he's the kid from Home Alone (in commercials, but mostly on Twitter, reminding followers how old he, and therefore they, are). He's turned his image into that of a goofball, willing to legally change his name at his followers' request (He is now officially MacCaulay MacCaulay Culkin Culkin).

I don't foresee that sort of passive endorsement fading anytime soon, especially when tons of households remind themselves he exists every year by watching Home Alone for Christmas. As for if he'll ever wow general audiences again, he's slated to be in the next season of American Horror Story. Fingers crossed.