Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day

ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxonbould, Dylan Minette, Kerris  Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Meagan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Dick Van Dyke. Directed by Miguel Arteta. 81 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language).

They say that films with very long names turn out to be not very good. It is difficult to know who “they” are – but in this case, they are quite wrong. Alexander definitely has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day but it is not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad film.

It’s a family film, generally for family audiences but also about a family. At the opening, we see them struggling home in a knocked-about car. They unlock their front door and we, and they, hear what seem to be crocodile noises! And then the film goes back 24 hours so that we can discover that very horrible day.

Alexander is quite an enterprising young man, although he certainly gets himself into a mess and get the family itself into quite some messes as well. Surprisingly, he is played by Ed Oxennbould, and very well too. But the surprise is not his acting. It is that he is an Australian actor and is to appear in the family film, Paper Planes. He is perfectly convincing as an American. Although it is interesting to note that in the film, his character, Alexander, has a passion for things Australian, his room covered in posters, his wanting to do a project on Australia at school (though his arch-rival, always putting him down, Philip Parker, and popular with everyone is assigned Australia).

Alexander has interesting genes because his father is a rocket scientist, recently losing his job as companies are re-structured, but offering to work on a computer game for a group of young experts. He is played genially by Steve Carell. And mother, Jennifer Garner, is very successful as well.  She writes children’s books, testing them out at home with great approval. When she goes to the library bookshop reading of one of the other books from her company, they discover there is a horrible, very bad misprint right throughout the book, dump instead of jump! Which leads to some difficulties – and some hostilities – for the guest reader, Dick Van Dyke.

Alexander has an older brother and sister. Anthony (Dylan Minette) is preparing to go to the prom with, of course, the beautiful girl in the class (in who in fact is a snob that no one would want to go with). He also get has to get a suit – and find one that does not suit him. And it his driving licence test day – with a tricky examiner concerning mobile  phones, Jennifer Coolidge. He has an older sister, Emma (Kerris Dorsey), who has been rehearsing for the school play – she is Peter Pan, but develops a cold, gives into too much cough mixture with a few ‘high’ disastrous results.

So, we can see, what a terrible, horrible day the rest of the family has – except the baby Trevor who does suck on a colour marker with green results. But, the rest of the family seem to give all their attention to the baby – and poor old Alexander feels that everybody neglects him.

It was important that this review to give the initial attention to Alexander because of his feelings of neglect – rather than to the rest of the family who, despite the terrible day, do finally have good results.

And then there is Alexander’s birthday party, quite a surprise with a very Australian theme.

All’s well that ends well – and this amusing film, with a moment or two of rudeness, runs only 80 minutes, which is all to the good.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


Out December 11th 2014

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