Alexander and the Terrible
Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Christian Movie Review
Most of my generation will remember the delightful children’s book that very loosely inspires this film.
And, I’m happy to report, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (#CooperFamilyGuide) — besides being a very long title to type out — is a delightful, rare breed of a movie: it’s a family-friendly, clean PG comedy that is not only genuinely hilarious but it stars A-List actors like Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner.
The plot, according to IMDB.com: “Alexander’s day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. Though he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother, and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
I’ll explain why I think this movie is wonderfully hilarious and worth seeing in a moment, but first let’s take a quick look at the Parental Guidance Issues and Family Discussion Guide.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: No nudity or sex scenes, as you might expect, but here is the content that might fall in the distant PG vicinity of this topic: a mom accidentally walks in on her teenage son. It’s implied that she accidentally saw him naked and both are horrified. The male anatomy is referenced later when the son’s embarrassment over what happened is discussed among the family. There’s a reference to a teenage boy’s desire to make out with his girlfriend in the back of the family van. A boy gets chicken pox, and a character discusses the boy’s plight using some grade school bathroom humor involving the butt. Male strippers are accidentally hired for a kid’s party, but there’s no stripping, and in fact no one even uses the word “strippers.” It’s all implied. Adults will know immediately what is going on, but kids might be slower to perceive it. The strippers do dance, but in a non-suggestive manner. Kids use an app to place a fellow classmate’s head on the bikini-clad body of a model, and a kid tells the victim of the prank that he has “nice boobs.”
Violence/Gore: A ton of PG slap-stick. A kangaroo kicks a man across a yard. A man accidentally sets his hands on fire, but he is able to put the fire out. A teenager gets into a car accident, knocks several poles down, and gets the side-door swiped clean off. A woman wipes out on her bicycle. A boy sets objects on fire by accident during a chemistry lab. A boy trips on a sprinkler and does a major face-plant.
Language: No actual swear words. Just bathroom humor and grade school anatomical references. The words “penis,” “boobs,” and “butt crack” are used in mild bathroom humor situations, and the phrase “that sucks” is used a few times in a scene. A man reads a children’s book that uses the phrase “take a dump.”
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: A teenage girl accidentally gets drunk drinking too much cough syrup. An adult character is seen drinking shots and getting a little rowdy.
Frightening/Intense/Emotionally Heavy Content: Probably the most frightening thing that happens is a crocodile surprises a group of characters and sort of roars at them. There is a fairly intense (i.e. loud) car crash scene.
ALERT TO PARENTS/YOUTH PASTORS: Family Discussion Guide!
If you’re a parent or youth pastor who’d like to do a movie-themed discussion, you can download the following Family Discussion Guide here. It has some great conversation starters, and it will allow families to go a little deeper with the film’s themes.
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
I laughed out loud throughout most of the movie. Sure there are grade school bathroom humor jokes, but there are quite a few zingers aimed at adults — stuff that parents especially will laugh knowingly about — and the slap-stick is pure fun and hilarity. It’s well-timed too, which is essential for comedy.
Some of the critics who dissed this movie kept mentioning (over and over again…geez) that this film was aimed almost entirely at grade school kids. They’re wrong. These critics must not have seen all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films where you feel like you’re intruding on a group of school kids huddled in a circle telling eye-rolling bathroom jokes and snickering — no adults allowed!
Not so with Alexander. Compared to most PG movies targeting families, this one has impressive range in its comedy, and it features quite a few comedic actors that are very popular among adults today. If the film makers were ignoring grown-ups, they wouldn’t have snagged these great actors and put them in hilarious situations that play to the actors’ strengths. Every adult in the theater was laughing constantly — and loudly — throughout the entire film.
Speaking of great actors, Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner were superb. It was fascinating to see the two in a movie together. Somehow they make a good pair as suburban parents. And there’s a surprising cameo from one of the greatest comedians in Hollywood history (and I won’t give away who it is).
All the child actors knocked it out of the park too. They were perfectly cast for their roles.
But what I loved most is how determined the family is to stick together through all the calamities. Thanks to the acting and the great set-up between Alexander’s terrible day and his family’s terrible day, you get a real sense of the family’s love for each other in a way that isn’t overly sentimental or eye-rolling.
And, unlike so many other PG family comedies, the kids in this movie actually honor their father and mother and show them real respect. Alexander, in one scene, even offers to give up the thing most precious to him so that his dad can get to a really important job interview.
Worldview(s) In the Film
This is probably way overkill for such a lighthearted movie, and I’m probably over-thinking it, but something popped up in this film that’s deserving of some attention.
This film has perhaps one of the most cliched plot devices of all time: a kid, while sitting alone brokenhearted in the middle of the night, makes a wish before blowing out a lone birthday candle, and — shock of all shocks — the wish actually comes true and changes everything for the family. This scene borrows a lengthy page from the Jim Carrey classic Liar Liar and plenty of other films that rely on that gag like a gambler relying on his lucky rabbit’s foot.
In other words, this ploy is the lucky rabbit’s foot of screenwriters; it protects him or her from writer’s block every time without fail.
It’s a culturally accepted suspension of disbelief — that there’s this unexplainable magic that the innocent, pure soul of a child can coax out of the cosmos when he or she merely wishes — and so it keeps popping up in movies. This is Disney after all. The lyrics for its doxology is “when you wish upon a star.”
Disney has always been into the whole wishing thing. It’s sort of a secular humanistic substitute for prayer — or what popular culture thinks prayer to be — and the gag always melts the hearts of audiences when it is depicted from the eyes of a child.
But did it bother me in this movie? Not really, actually; simply because the film didn’t take it that seriously. It didn’t do what Disney often does with its theology of wishing and treat it with white-gloved, holy hippy dippy seriousness. In fact, it left it open to interpretation and perhaps even hinted that — gasp — the whole pure, innocent child making a wish thing has no effect on the cosmos.
What also made the “magical wish” thing a non-issue for me — and also not pretentiously annoying as it can be in other movies — is how the awesome actor who played Alexander, Ed Oxenbould, treated that segment with a matter-of-fact, level-headed earnestness that didn’t make your eyes roll.
All in all I loved this movie. It’s heartwarming, it honors the bond of family, and it depicts parents who are deeply committed to each other and to their kids. There were plenty of ways it could’ve gone terribly wrong, but it nimbly side-stepped all of those numbskull screenwriting errors and used the ingredients of a top-notch cast and a fun “day of calamity” plot to create some side-splitting laughs for all ages.