Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) feels left out of his very successful family – his mum Kelly (Jennifer Garner) is nearing a big promotion at the publishing company she works at; his dad Ben (Steve Carrell), a highly qualified aerospace engineer, is a stay-at-home parent of baby Trevor and is going for an interview for a potentially lucrative job at a game design firm; his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey, who played Brad Pitt’s daughter in Moneyball) is the lead in the middle school production of Peter Pan; and his brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette), is hoping to drive his girlfriend Celia (Bella Thorne) to the prom immediately after he gets his drivers license. At midnight on his twelfth birthday, Alexander innocently wishes that his perfect family got a taste of the endless typical middle school blunder-filled bad days he has.
As soon as you hear The Black Keys in the trailer for this, you know you’re in for something different. Just like The Book Thieflast year, Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt)’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (currently playing in the US, out December 4 via. Disney in Australia) is here to bring the lost art of family films back. Devoid of toilet humour and filled with innuendos that will entertain the adults but fly over young viewers’ heads completely unnoticed, its grown up, cheeky approach couldn’t be more welcome in the days where films are distinctly for adults OR children, but never both. Undoubtedly taking cues from the mid-budget Disney films of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s like Holes, The Parent Trap, and Freaky Friday that both adults and kids can watch and enjoy immensely, it’s a nostalgia trip back to the days of smart, age-appropriate writing from adults. Even through it more than exercises the signature Disney “this day brought us all closer together”/”we learnt something from today!” sweetness, Arteta’s film is surprisingly subversive for family fare in some scenes I don’t wish to spoil here, even poking fun at the cottonwool, overmedicated, technology-raised, and categorised children of today. Up-and-coming Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (was Alexander’s obsession with Australia an afterthought when casting him?), carries the film with seasoned talents Garner and Carrell well. Starring in the Australian film Paper Planes (out January 15 via. Roadshow), which played at TIFF, Oxenbould is being touted as ‘the next big thing’, a’la Abigail Breslin in about 2006. Expect to see him in more soon.
Alexander is not an essential watch, it’s very predictable, and you’ll easily be able to see it in a few years on television and enjoy it just as much, thanks to the lack of being too-current and zeitgeisty in its jokes/references, which is something many films today suffer from. But if you need to distract a kid with a visit to the cinema this summer, you really can’t go past it. You’ll have just as much, if not more, fun than them.