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October 22, 2015

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

by Franz Patrick


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Things have never been better for Alexander’s family: His dad (Steve Carell) just snagged an interview for a video game company, his mom (Jennifer Garner) is up for a big promotion, his elder brother (Dylan Minnette) received news that everyone is voting for him and his girlfriend as prom king and queen, and his elder sister (Kerris Dorsey) is playing the lead on a school musical.

Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), on the other hand, had gum stuck on his hair moments after waking up, almost set the science lab on fire, and received news that no one plans to attend his twelfth birthday party. So, at the stroke of midnight, he makes a wish: for his family to know how it feels like to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Based on the children’s book by Judith Viorst and screenplay by Rob Lieber, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” could have gone very wrong. In the wrong hands, its priorities would likely have been on consistent slapstick humor—the more bodily fluids the better—rather than a balance of that and real emotions of a twelve-year-old who feels marginalized, invisible, like he doesn’t matter. Thus, the picture is a bit of a nice surprise, one that the whole family can enjoy.

The material commands an energy that works actively to lure us in. None of the characters are fully developed but because a series of unfortunate events are stacked together like pancakes, sometimes without a breather, we come to a state where we wonder and look forward what will happen next. I was curious as to what point the day would finally turn around for the family. I was surprised in that with some of the negative turn of events, there is a silver lining to them. Or perhaps it is simply my unwavering optimism reflected from the screen.

Although the lead character wishes for his family to have a bad day, we still root for him. When he realizes that maybe his wish really did come true, he genuinely feels bad. There are plenty of so-called children’s movies out there, not dissimilar to this film, where a boy or girl relishes—even temporarily—the misery of his or her family. Here, Alexander feels guilt almost immediately but there is nothing he can do to undo his wish. Instead, the screenplay makes him an active participant in supporting his family to get through the day.

The Coopers are not written to be especially annoying. On the contrary, even though they have their odd traits individually as well as a group, they are the kind of family you want to be around or be a part of. Many family movies struggle to find the fine line between exaggerating the characters and exasperating the audience. Although the film is harmless fun, it does what it aims to accomplish.

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