Film Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Keith Hill

Rated PG. Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould. Directed by Miguel Artera.

Earlier this year I wrote that The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro was in the running for the longest film title of 2014. Well, blowing it out of the water is latecomer to the title race Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Based on the 1972 children’s book of the same name, Alexander… follows two days in the life of Alexander Cooper (Australian Ex Oxenbould). The first is a standard day for Alexander – nothing goes right. He wakes up with chewing gum in his hair, and for there things just go downhill.

His family, on the other hand, seem unable to put a foot wrong. His brother Anthony is about to get his license and be crowned King of the Prom, his sister has the lead in the school production of Peter Pan, his mum, Kelly (Garner), is overseeing the release of a new kids book, which has the potential to make her career, and his unemployed, rocket-scientist dad, Ben (Carell), lands an interview for a job as a game designer with a gaming company. Alexander feels like his family doesn’t appreciate his struggles, and so that night, on the eve of his 12th birthday, he makes a wish that they will have just one day like his.

Lo and behold, the family wakes the next day and can’t put a foot right. His brother has a giant pimple on his forehead, his sister has caught a cold and can’t sing, his mother’s car has a flat battery, and his dad is forced to take his baby brother to the job interview. From there, everything falls apart for the Coopers.

The film is pretty standard Disney fare, with the Cooper’s day being predictable from the outset. The film keeps their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day going at a breakneck speed as all their plans go to pieces around them. The comedy falls flat in a few spots, notably during the catastrophic Peter Pan play, but for the most part Steve Carell’s comedic skill keeps the laughs coming.

At their absolute worst moment, when it seems like the family can take no more, the eternally optimistic Ben apologises to his family, telling them he has failed them. His job, he believes, is to look after the family so that nothing bad happens to them, and they are always happy. It’s here that Alexander comes out with some profound wisdom for a 12-year old – you’ve gotta have the bad days to make the good ones so much sweeter.

No one is immune from bad days, not even Christians. But unlike Ben, who thinks his job is to protect his family from them, Christians have a heavenly Father who is in complete control over the bad days, and uses them for our good. In Hebrews 12:3-11, we see that God’s discipline is evidence that we are his children. A good father doesn’t shelter his children from everything that might make them uncomfortable – that will just make them spoilt and weak. Instead he lets them endure a just little hardship, in order to make them stronger and help them to survive in the world. And in God’s case, to help his children grow in holiness.

Alexander… is a helpful reminder that we all face bad days, but even in the bad days we can find something good. It’s a bit of lighthearted fun for the kids in the upcoming summer holidays. Three stars.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day will be released in Australian cinemas on Thursday, 4th December. It is currently screening in the USA and the UK.

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