Thursday, 26 March 2015

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

I was told that I should watch this film by my nephew Leon, 8, and my neice Mali, 6, who both assured me that it was a very good film and one of their favourites.

It always amazes me when I watch a live-action Disney film that the families are so well off. I wonder, who are kids meant to identify with? This family is so far removed from what I understand of family life. They all sit around the table and talk about their day, and despite the usual tussle to get in the bathroom, the bathroom itself is big enough to accommodate a few people at a time. The mother (Jennifer Garner) is tauted to become a vice-president in a publishing company, and the father (Steve Carell), although recently lay-off, has a degree in space engineering and has a job interview at a games developer. The elder brother (Dylan Minnette) goes out with the school hottie and is set to be prom "Duke", and the sister (Kerris Dorsey) is the lead in the school play.

The family is quite positively perfect, and so makes young Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) jealous and angry at their success, as his shitty life consists of getting gum stuck in his hair, a school mate photoshopping his head onto lingerie models, and popular kid having his birthday party on the same day. Annoying, but nothing soul destroying. This is a story of petty annoyances, those little things in life that you can't prepare for and so make you extra angry. In a scene that is ripped straight out of Liar Liar, Alexander wishes that his family could experience a truly bad day, like the one he just had, before he blows out a solitary candle in a private birthday cake at midnight.

Of course, everything goes wrong, and Alexander realises that he possesses the kind of magical thinking that we all wished was actually true. But naturally, the bad things that happen to the people around him are much more grave that the bad things that happen to him: his mothers book launch goes badly, his dad might not get the job, the sister gets high on cough syrup and ruins the play, and the brother crashes the car on his driving test.

I can't help but feel that this film preaches the message of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, as, guided by his fathers relentless optimism, Alexander realises that you only need to think positively to make good things happen to you. While it is true that visualisation can help you achieve things, it is wrong to think that that is all we need. Sometimes, shit things happen to good people, and while I was happy that Alexander got what he wanted in the end, I can't help but think of all the kids who watch this and do not have the power of positive thinking working for them.

Maybe I'm picking this film apart a bit, but it would be nice to see Disney attempt a little bit of realism in their films, portraying what life is like for a majority of people. Despite this, Alexander... is a very amiable film, which the whole cast playing their parts well, and a nice dosage of physical humour in there, as well as maybe a few jokes that will make the adults chuckle. One of the funniest bits for me was seeing "authentic Australian cowboys" about to initiate a strip tease at a children's party, only to be swiftly encouraged to a more PG-13 routine.

There is enough silliness in this film to entertain, and Oxenbould, while in the shadow of every other cast member, channels well the typical childhood frustrations that we all experience - that somehow you're the black sheep and they don't understand you. While there is nothing presented about his family to make us dislike them, apart from a bit of smugness, the fact that they all realise that they like and appreciate each other is welcome message. It is not just Alexander that has to change his view point, its all of them.



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