Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

(PG) Steve Carrell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould

Classic children’s books have proven to be great source material for the big screen. Can this short children’s story manage to capture people’s imagination?

This movie suffers from the most difficult name in cinematic history. Trying to explain what film we were going to see caused a tongue tying experience. Steve Carell could not even remember the full name of the film when he guest starred on the Jimmy Fallon show. But, even with the difficulty of the name will this story be memorable or will it just be another run of the mill, coming of age story?

This is a retelling of Alexander’s story, while taking from the concept of the classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Director Miguel Arteta reworks the tale and improves it for a modern audience.

The central character is pre-teen Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), who is dealing with the challenges of his family and their supposed perfect existence. His mum, Kelly Cooper (Jennifer Garner) is an up and coming publishing executive, his dad, Ben Cooper (Steve Carell) seems to love his role as the stay at home ‘fommy’ (father/mommy) and his siblings Anthony, Emily and baby Trevor all appear to live in a bubble of positivity, except for Alexander.

On the day prior to Alexander’s birthday, all is going wrong for him. After experiencing the horrors of peer pressure, rejected love and life as the middle child, he wishes that his family would all get a glimpse into the realities of his life and hopes to earn some sympathy. This is the cue for the fated day that follows.

Reminiscent of Liar, Liar, but with the whole family pulled into Alexander’s reality-check wish, the turn of events cause an implosion of their lives and the reflections of how they respond to the multitude of difficulties. On the other side of the story, Alexander begins an upward trajectory of good fortune, but manages to keep his feet grounded as his family’s lives fall apart. Even with the predictability of many of the experiences and the clichéd delivery, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is fun for the whole family.

What makes for a great experience at the theatre is the director’s dismantling of the lead characters lives and the political correctness that can plague the modern family. The disastrous effects of modern technologies on the lives of high schoolers and families and the pressures of life are the backdrop for this dualistic tale.

Alexander is perfectly cast as an awkward, but endearing boy who is trying make his way in the world. His character lives with the frustrations of life, but he never deliberately displays the  vindictiveness that occurs in many coming of age films.  Arteta seems to give a nod to the John Hughes films of the 80s and merely has fun with the film about family life. The story is over the top in delivery, but the characters sit nicely within the world that has been developed for them.

Steve Carell is convincing as the try-hard, but caring father and manages to hold back from his typical overacting. Jennifer Garner successfully plays the vulnerable, but stable mother figure who always seems to want to be home with the family. The central theme of the film holds true to families dealing with the realities of life and the director should be forgiven for his stereotypical portrayal of Australia.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day won’t win any awards for acting or originality, but it is a joy to experience. It is a film that is acceptable for any age group, with the warning of some language and pre-teen humour. The dialogue between the family members makes for some of the most endearing scenes this year. The familial humour comes from how much you can relate to the escalating very bad day – we’ve all had them.

In the end, the film dismantles the notion of ‘fate’ as the family comes to realise that bad days happen and what matters most is how you get through them. As a life lesson film, Alexander is a fun film that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Leaving the cinema…

The family walked out of the theatre laughing and smiling. It is a joy to go to a family film that is fun and has a positive message. The concept is simple and the delivery enjoyable. Also, we are right there with you Alexander, I think I will move to Australia. Good on ya, mate!

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. What does the Bible say about fate? (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesian 2:10)
  2. What is the value of family? (Proverbs 1:8, Ephesian 6:1-2)
  3. Where is real hope found? (Romans 8:24-25, Hebrews 11:1,7)

Russell Matthews


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