Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day parents guide

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Parent Review

The messages of self-sacrifice and caring for one another allow this movie to rise above its momentary misgivings and will leave families feeling like they've had a good day.

Overall B+

Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) and his family are about to prove the truth in the saying, "Things could always be worse," as one calamity leads to another on a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Violence B
Sexual Content B+
Profanity B
Substance Use C+

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language.

Movie Review

We’ve all had bad days, but some days go beyond bad. After Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) has a day that includes setting his school science lab on fire, he comes home to his family for some solace. Instead he sits through dinner listening to his parents and siblings describe all the great things that happened to them since breakfast. Like the old saying about salt in a wound, Alexander sadly ponders the next day, which happens to be his birthday. Not able to sleep, he makes himself a birthday sundae and blows the candle out with a wish that the others in his family could have a bad day too so they can understand what he’s going through.

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The next morning Alexander awakens to a family that has slept past the alarm. His unemployed Dad (Steve Carell) is worried about a job interview and his mother (Jennifer Garner) is anxious about being late for her work where she is in charge of a celebrity book reading. Meanwhile his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who is set to perform the starring role in her school musical, has woken up with a cold. And his older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is about to discover a few reasons why his up-coming night at the junior prom will be less than perfect.

If you’ve checked the poster and trailer for this film, you may assume it will be yet another story of a dysfunctional family who make dumb decisions that result in over-the-top consequences. Thankfully Alexander isn’t nearly as terrible as some may expect. The events that occur during their cursed day are realistic enough that you shudder to think how it could happen to you. Perhaps not all of them in one day, but they are certainly plausible. And that makes the humor in this film very relatable for parents, while the kids in the crowd will enjoy the slapstick silliness of things like a baby turning a green highlighter into a popsicle.

Even more impressive are the parents. They are not the dolts we have come to expect in other films in this genre. Instead they are intelligent, hard-working and caring. They desperately want to do whatever they can to turn a difficult situation into something better for their three oldest kids who all have important events on the calendar. And, having four children myself, let me assure you it’s not all that unusual to have your kids’ special occasions all lining up like the planets in a stellar spectacle.

Content concerns for viewers include some potty humor and mild sexual remarks. As well, there are a couple of scenes involving topics parents should be prepared to discuss afterward. A student uses a Smartphone app to place the picture of a boy’s head on the top of various photos of women in bikinis. The pictures are texted throughout the school—a seemingly silly activity that could result in serious repercussions in reality. Then there’s Emily’s desperate attempt to regain her voice for the school musical. She purchases a large bottle of cough syrup and swigs mouthfuls from the container until her father finally takes it from her. Her drunken performance in the play is followed by vomiting. This is presented within a humorous context, even though this medication can be dangerous if taken in large doses. And that’s not so funny. 

Thankfully the overall messages (self sacrifice and caring for one another) allow Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to rise above its momentary misgivings. It is one of the few live-action family films in recent memory that allows parents and kids to laugh together and leave the theater feeling like they’ve had a good day.

Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Jennifer Garner, Steve Carell, Ed Oxenbould. Running time: 81 minutes. Theatrical release October 10, 2014. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day here.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Parents Guide

The father in this movie is determined to stay positive at all times. Later he learns, “You don’t always have to steer your ship with positivity.” Is it possible to always be happy? What is the difference between being happy and having a positive attitude? What range of emotions can we experience in life? Is sadness an inferior emotion to happiness?

What sacrifices do various family members make for each other in this movie? How does this affect the family as a group? What opportunities do you have to improve the feelings of love within your family? Can one person’s attitude make a difference within a group?

Parents may want to discuss topics surrounding text messaging and abuse of over-the-counter medications to ensure their children and teens understand the serious consequences of these depicted behaviors.

This movie is based on a book by Judith Viorst.

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