Aussie edge to feel-good farce

The West Australian


Alexander's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould



The live action adaptation of Judith Viorst's highly amusing children's book has finally made it to the screen, after a checkered start which involved a change of film studios and director.

But while the Walt Disney Studio's picking up of the movie from 20th Century Fox because of budgetary reasons is nothing more than an occupational hazard in the business world, what's surprising is acclaimed independent creator Miguel Arteta's decision to fill the chair left vacant by Lisa Cholodenko, who also happened to write a first draft of the screenplay (eventually completed by Rob Lieber).

Renowned for his innovative television and movie filmmaking, Arteta shows little of this edginess as he plays it safe with this feel-good comedy that surprisingly delivers more than this reviewer, at least, expected as he walked warily through the cinema doors.

The premise of the story centres on young 11-year-old Alexander, who feels as if every single one of his days is terrible, horrible and no good, particularly when compared to the almost-perfect lifestyles of his parents and siblings.

But when Alexander tells his upbeat family about his misadventures, he finds little sympathy and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him.

Finally, Alexander can take it no more. On a day when he wakes up to gum in his hair, accidentally mangles his baby brother's favourite bumblebee pacifier in the sink disposal unit, misses out on a window seat in the car pool (yet again), gets unflattering Photoshopped images of him distributed to his friends, sees his birthday plans usurped by a student who promises a more extravagant celebration, and almost destroys the school lab in an effort to impress his crush, Alexander wishes that everybody else could experience his misfortunes.

Aussie Ed Oxenbould makes a fine movie debut as Alexander, who from that wish on sees his family encounter mishap after mishap, enough to convince him that it was his selfish whims which somehow cast a spell of disaster on everyone's day.

If the surname sounds familiar, it should; Ed is the nephew of Australian actor Jason Oxenbould, who played the teenaged Ben in the TV sitcom Hey Dad!

Indeed, there is a distinctive Australian flavour to the film. A running gag throughout the book involves an exasperated Alexander repeating several times that he wants to move to Australia (presumably because he thinks it's better here).

In the movie, Alexander's preoccupation with Australia is extended to an obsession, with his bedroom surrounded by all manner of Australian paraphernalia, while a dalliance with Vegemite on toast causes his sister to coil in disgust.

As Alexander's father, the accomplished Steve Carell waltzes through the role in his inoffensive, charismatic, slapdash fashion, while the performances of the rest of the cast are solid, although one might not expect any less given the less-than-challenging material.

Arteta ensures the overtures of familial affirmation are not conveyed with too much saccharine, while the many comedic interludes carry through successfully without slipping into slapstick.

The movie runs a little less than 85 minutes, not too long to have the younger audience fidgeting, but is also filled with enough fast-paced fun and frivolity to sustain the attention of the older moviegoers.

There's enough use of tweets, mobile phones and Gen Z whiz kids to give this interpretation of Alexander's THNGVBB a modern-day twist, but the message remains ostensibly the same; that, in Alexander's words, "you have to have the bad days so you can love the good ones", helped by "steering the ship with positivity".

Hardly terrible, horrible or no good, the film is enjoyable family fare, right from Alexander's first disaster to the grand Aussie-themed finale, which could arguably do more for this country's tourism prospects than any of its recent high profile advertisements.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails