REM lead singer Michael Stipe sings the lyric, “It’s been a bad day – please don’t take a picture!” and we all instinctively know what he means.
Some days are so atrocious the most we can think to do with them is to forget they ever existed. But at the comic level of this problem Disney’s Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day suggests there are better things to do with your worst possible day.
Alexander etc. is loosely based on the picture book of the same name by children’s author Judith Viorst. In the film version up-and-coming Australian star Ed Oxenbould from Bondi stars as the title character, a boy for whom nothing seems to go right:
“My parents say there’s no such thing as a bad day, it’s all how you look at it. What can I say? They’re wrong. I ought to know. I’m the expert in bad days.”
And the evidence seems to bear this out. Alexander wakes up with chewing gum in his hair, arrives at school to find his head attached to a bikini-clad model photo bomb, and sets the lab book of the girl he likes on fire. All of his family’s determined optimism fails to lift him out of a spiral that ends in spiral of depression the day before his 12th birthday. Alexander reasons that they don’t really understand what he’s up against because his parents and siblings are just so successful. So at midnight, in true Disney style, he makes himself a birthday dessert and blows out the candle wishing they would have just one bad day. The result is catastrophic.
Mum (Jennifer Garner) comes close to losing her career; dad (Steve Carell) crashes and burns at a job interview. His older brother loses his girlfriend on the eve of the Prom; his older sister loses her voice on the opening night of the school musical. And things just slide from there into raucously funny but family friendly exploration of just how bad a day can get. But this is a Disney film and so, of course, there will be a moral wrap up to consider. So what does the Mouse have to say about bad days?
Steve Carell provides the philosophical punching bag, proclaiming on several occasions, “You’re the captain of your ship – steer with positivity!” – and I’m glad that Disney takes this rampant positivism down, because it’s just not helpful for kids to believe the American Dream. Things will not work out if you just try harder; the world is full of real pain, inequality and sorrow and pretending otherwise doesn’t do anyone any favours. I think for that lesson alone it’s worth the price of a family ticket. But, as a Christian parent, I think I’m going to have to be doing some work with the Alexander’s more ‘balanced’ conclusion:
“You don’t always have to steer your ship with positivity. Some days are just bad. I think you’ve just got to own the bad days so you can enjoy the good days even more… This day I realised that the worst days are still not that bad if you’re surrounded by the ones you love.”
Count your blessings? Sure, that’s good advice. And loved ones will make up the balance? Well, that’s not so bad… so long as you have loved ones to turn to. But the really, really bad times are actually those when we feel most alone in our struggles. I think that’s why I’ll be taking the opportunity to remind my kids that no matter how tough things get, if you’ve joined God’s family, you’ll never be going through things alone. Not only will Jesus be with you every step of the way, our Father in Heaven has guaranteed that things will still work out for our best. Of course Alexander etc. finishes on a high note too, but I’ll take His promise over the movie’s blind luck any day of the week.
Release Date: December 4