Friday, 28 November 2014

Movie Review: Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Sometimes, we see movies for reasons that are in no way rational; the fact that I have seen The Room in cinemas twice this year is proof enough of that. I’ve said before that I try not to let my expectations dictate how I anticipate a movie, but every so often I’ll get kind of hyped for a movie just because an actor I like is in it. This is… a weird case. I say weird because the actor I wanted to see here isn’t even one of the main characters. In fact, I had no idea just how much screen time he was going to get. Who that actor is I’ll get to momentarily. For now, this is Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day… long title is long.

The plot: Alexander (played by Ed Oxenbould) has had a bad day, like every other day. However when he tries to get some sympathy from his family, he gets none since they haven’t had any bad days. So, as a birthday wish, Alexander wishes for them to know what it feels like. His wish comes true and *sigh* hijinks ensue.

As much as I would love to be making mocking comparisons between Alexander And The Long Name and Liar Liar, given how the two both have main plots started by a birthday wish, I will try to avoid that as best as I can. One reason for that is because Alexander And The Word Salad makes the wise move and has the plot play out in such a way that it makes sense as just an unfortunate sequence of events without having to bring birthday wish mumbo jumbo into it. The other reason is that this isn’t even close to being as funny as Liar Liar. The comedic writing here has two modes: Mild chuckles, and so telegraphed that even the child sitting the row behind me at the cinema could see them coming (And, for once, I’m not kidding). The only other movie from this year that had jokes I could see this far ahead was Keith Lemon: The Film, and I will at least give this film credit for having the comedy be better than that piece of trash (Then again, not hard to do). The plot, not to mention the title, kind of gives away the sort of comedy we get here: Murphy’s Comedy, where everything bad that can happen does. However, most movies tend to work around this obvious framework with creative writing so that, when you know that something will happen, you’re still not entirely sure what will happen and the anticipation built up on that makes for some spontaneous laughs. Here, for the most part, all we get instead is a mild variety of how far away you can see the jokes from, with some being less obvious than others. A good example of this early on is when Alexander is leaving his house for a car pool to school. You know those played-out slow motion scenes when our main character walks towards a love interest but ends up tripping on something? Yeah, we get that here too.

In a movie that relies prominently on comedy, if your writing falters then you can make up for it with good performances. Thankfully, we actually do get a bit of that here, mainly from Steve Carell who plays Alexander’s dad Ben. The man’s dry delivery, relentless optimism and great sense of comedic timing helps pick up more than a few of the dud jokes he’s given, allowing him to raise a lot of the scenes involving him. I mean, anyone who is able to be a flaming pirate on screen and sell it has to be given props (Once again, not kidding). Actually, a lot of the acting from our main cast is good: Aside from Alexander and his dad, we also have Jennifer Garner as the mother Kelly, Dylan Minnette as the older brother Anthony and Kerris Dorsey as the older sister Emily, all of whom do the best that they can with what they have. We also have some rather… interesting bit parts that elevate things as well: Jennifer Coolidge as a driving instructor, Burn Gorman as a school play director, Dick Van Dyke as himself (Your guess is as good as mine on that one) and Donald Glover as a game designer that Ben has a job interview with. Yeah, I’ll admit, I just wanted to see this because I saw Donald Glover in the trailer; I love his stand-up, his work on Community and his rap music, oddly enough for the same reason in that they are all legitimately funny. It’s a dumb reason to want to see this movie, but at least I got some decent mileage out of his scenes. Since he’s connected to Ben’s storyline, his scenes were mostly of just him and Carell bouncing off of each other which worked surprisingly well. One final note on the acting: Alexander's best friend is one of the most blatant token black characters I've seen in a long while. Blerg.

Actually, since the father is one of this film’s saving graces, I might as well talk about his place in the plot and try to read into it a bit. From the very beginning, he is touted as being the optimist of the family and shows it in more ways than one. While the family gets bad crap happen to them all day, which range from minor to you’re going to be having bad days for a while as a result of this, his day remains relatively fine. Hell, his ultimate breaking point, when he stops looking at the glass half-full and more as the glass to pour on someone’s head in anger, is the flaming pirate bit I mentioned earlier, a moment that could have ended up a lot worse than it did and he’s lucky for it. Given the movie’s overall message about taking the good with the bad (I still can’t get the Facts Of Life theme out of my head), maybe Ben’s character is meant to show another message about staying positive throughout and your day will be better because of it. Given how trite the main message is, having something buried a little deeper in the text is really surprising, not to mention appreciated as someone who loves reading too far into things. Of course, there are more than a few story issues here, not the least of which being that because of how realistic the damage caused on the titular day is, they could have easily left out the birthday wish and just left it ambiguous. Seriously, considering it’s supposed to be the main plot gear for the movie, it’s swept under the rug fairly quickly and only vaguely alluded to throughout, before being mentioned flat-out once and never again. Also, the mother’s plotline is wrapped up way too conveniently; there’s no way in hell that she would have gotten away with what had happened the way she did and the resolution is weak in it of itself.


All in all, while not a bad movie per say, it would only serve as a mild diversion for families. I can at least safely recommend this as a family film, because there are a few jokes that are aimed at adults, but don’t be surprised if you barely remember a thing about it the day after seeing it. This ranks higher than Let’s Be Cops, as the main characters aren’t nearly as unlikeable initially, but lower than The House Of Magic, which while also pretty forgettable has better entertainment value as a family film. It’s mediocre; maybe wait for the DVD on this one.

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