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Film / Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Get ready for the best worst day of your life.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a family comedy film released on October 10, 2014. It was directed by Miguel Arteta from a screenplay written by Rob Lieber. The film stars Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, and Ed Oxenbould, and is an Adaptation Expansion of Judith Viorst's 1972 children's book of the same name.

Alexander Cooper spends a day (revealed to be his birthday no less) miserable as the rest of the family are reveling too much in their success to notice his rotten day. After ending up making a birthday sundae for himself, he wishes his family could experience the same sort of disappointment he goes through. What happens the next day is just that...

Contains examples of:

  • Acquired Error at the Printer: Kelly Cooper is launching a kids book called Jump on the Potty. A printing error changes every instance of the word 'jump' to 'dump'. This leads to Dick Van Dyke doing a celebrity reading at the launch where he tells the children to "dump like a dog".
  • Achievements in Ignorance: The horrible day does have a few upsides; the misprint in Kelly's book and faulty reading causes the incident to go viral, resulting in a lot of free publicity, while Ben's disastrous interview actually impresses the executives, getting him hired.
  • Adapted Out: Alexander's other older brother Nick is omitted from the movie, which gives his role to Anthony instead.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film expands the book by focusing not just on Alexander's bad day, but also on his family and the ensuing bad day they have.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Phillip Parker and Elliott Gibson haven't done anything wrong in the books. In the film they played a more direct role in making Alexander's day miserable (Phillip Parker making his birthday party on the same day as Alexander's and Elliott Gibson posting pictures of Alexander with boobs).
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • In the book, Anthony was just a straight Big Brother Bully with no redeeming qualities (though he had some Pet the Dog moments in the Animated Adaptation). Here, he is noticeably less cruel to Alexander, at least at the film progressed.
    • Alexander is also noticeably more pleasant in the film. He never really snaps at anyone (notably Paul or his siblings, as in the book) and at least tries to stay cool even despite all of misfortune.
  • Bile Fascination: In-Universe, Kelly's misprinted book turns out to be popular.
  • Boxing Kangaroo: One of them escapes the yard and Ben tries to catch him. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Butt-Monkey: Alexander, clearly, but downplayed later in the movie. Later in the movie, his whole family suffers, and Alexander doesn't.
  • Canon Foreigner: Emily and Trevor.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Alexander is very fond of Australia. His actor, Ed Oxenbould, is Australian. This is a detail from the original picture book, but it works as this trope too.
    • This isn't the first role in which Kerris Dorsey practices singing and has a song in the end credits.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: Emily blames her cold on having been in the cold car all evening rehearsing.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase
  • Closest Thing We Got: Ben accidentally hires male strippers for his son's birthday party, somehow. (The only explanation we get is that they were advertised as "authentic Australian cowboys".) After realizing his mistake, he tells them to "keep it PG" but lets them stay. They turn out to be pretty good dancers and the kids are none the wiser.
  • Company Cross References:
    • Even though Peter Pan has been a play longer than it's been anything else, Emily's class is specifically performing an adaptation of the Disney version, complete with the song "You Can Fly".
    • Celia's teacher calls Anthony "Wreck-It Ralph" after he accidentally knocks over the school's trophy cases.
  • Crosscast Role: In-universe example. Emily portrays Peter Pan for a school play, as is tradition for real-life performances.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Each screw-up by the family members segues into the next one for somebody else. The events of the titular bad day are kicked off by Alexander accidentally destroying Trevor's pacifier, making him cry all night, causing Emily to rehearse outside and the parents to be up all night soothing him. This results in Kelly's car battery being drained, Emily catching a cold, the parents getting to work late... and it all gets worse from there.
  • Driving Test Smashers: Anthony insists on taking his driving test on the day when everything is going wrong, because he wants to drive Celia to the prom that night. During the test, his driving examiner intentionally distracts him by convincing him to pick up his cell phone, causing him to destroy several parking meters and damage the family minivan, and ultimately fail.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Alexander gets one at the end of the movie.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A day where Finagle's Law goes into such effect.
  • Exact Words: A meta-example. The title technically doesn't say whose terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day the movie is about.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The beginning of the movie takes place in one day, while the rest of the movie happens the following day. For one day, a lot of stuff happens, yet it never gets any darker outside, nor do the characters get burnt out until the end, so you'd be forgiven for forgetting that the title is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, emphasis on "day".
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The movie juggles four plotlines between Alexander's day at school, his brother's struggle to get back together with Celia, his dad's interview, and his mom's crisis at the office until they gradually converge.
  • Homage: To the Disney family comedies of the mid-1970s.
  • House Husband: Mr. Cooper is one while his wife is the only breadwinner in the family. In the end, he gets a job but will remain in charge of household chores because his job, unlike Mrs. Cooper's, allows him the time for it.
  • Ignored Confession: Alexander's family doesn't believe that his birthday wish is responsible for the terrible day they're having. They do, however, point out the very real ways his actions the day before inadvertently led to a lot of what went wrong.
  • In Name Only: Sorta. While the movie keeps all the essentials like the protagonist, his parents, one of his big brother bullies and having the plot center around said protagonist having a bad day, because it's a two-hour long movie adapted from a short kids' book, the story (unsurprisingly) goes through a number of changes. In addition, the book focused on Alexander having a bad day while the movie focuses on him and his family having a bad day.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Emily downs a bottle of cold syrup and acts drunk while on stage as Peter Pan.
  • Involuntary Smile of Incapacitation: Emily gets a bad cold on the day of a Peter Pan play, so she dopes herself up on cough syrup and ends up completely hammered. By the time she gets to the theater, she's babbling and chuckling. When it's her time to come onto the stage, she comes out and crashes into stage props, grinning and rambling the whole time.
  • It's All My Fault: Alexander for wishing his family would have a terrible day as he had.
  • Jerkass: Phillip Parker appears to be this, since he apparently decides to have his birthday party earlier, on the same day as Alexander. And he doesn't care about the difference between Australia and Austria. Elliott Gibson also qualifies when he posts pictures of Alexander with boobs.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Anthony, especially before the bad day. He then switches between being a Big Brother Bully to a Big Brother Instinct to Alexander; he even cancels his prom date with his girlfriend Celia in order to stay with his family.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: The driving test supervisor tricks Anthony into answering his phone when his prom date is calling, and instead of taking responsibility for her causing him to severely damage the family's car, flunks him in a state of anger.
  • Kangaroos Represent Australia: A kangaroo (along with a crocodile) is one of the animals Ben has hired for Alexander's Australian-themed birthday party. However, the kangaroo escapes and Ben has to chase it along a suburban street, getting punched in the face by the roo in the process.
  • Karma Houdini: Debatable. The sleazy driving test supervisor is never shown to get any punishment for tricking Anthony into answering his phone. Judging by her reaction to what ensues, however, she may have learned her lesson the hard way.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Phillip gets the chicken pox and Elliot Gibson, the boy who posted the pictures of Alexander with "boobs", gets suspended.
  • Make a Wish: A more subtle example, but when by himself with a birthday sundae, he wishes his family could experience the disappointments he has every day. He later tries to tell them it's all his fault, but they brush it off as a coincidence.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While Alexander does make a wish for his family's bad luck, there are numerous realistic explanations for each bad occurrence.
  • Mythology Gag: A recurring line from the book about how Alexander wishes to move to Australia to get away from his problems is turned into a general obsession with the country in the film, culminating in an Australia-themed birthday party arranged by his father.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Alexander's parents are named Ben and Kelly. And the family is given the surname Cooper.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The four Cooper siblings are divided into this. Emily is the kind and friendly nice, Anthony is the rude and immature Big Brother Bully mean and Alexander and Trevor are both the in-between as the former is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold and the latter can be an Annoying Younger Sibling at times but he's still harmless.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe example. After the reading of the misprinted book goes viral, the publisher is able to spin it into hype for the actual book.
  • Not My Lucky Day: The rest of the Cooper family go through this after Alexander goes through one.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Mr. Cooper describes his video game idea as "Survivor on a space station."
  • Rise of Zitboy: Anthony is using a band-aid to cover a zit.
  • Running Gag: Alexander's fascination with Australia. It was the same in the book, where Alexander says he wants to move to Australia (where he won't have a bad day).
  • Sadistic Teacher: The driving instructor tries to trick Anthony into answering his phone during his driving test just so she can fail him. This backfires spectacularly as his distracted driving nearly gets them both killed; she is understandably traumatized. But of course, she does fail him.
  • School Play: Emily has been cast as the lead in Peter Pan.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Celia's teacher catches Celia and Anthony talking in the halls during class and tells them that this isn't Gossip Girl before breaking it up.
    • Upon looking at Anthony's tux, Celia says he looks like Willy Wonka.
  • The Show Must Go On: Even though she has a cold and shows up barely in time for curtain, Emily refuses to let her understudy take over in the school play, downing way too much cough syrup in the hopes that it'll bring her up to peak condition just long enough to finish the performance...
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: Emily insists on participating in her school play while recovering from her cold...only to get high as a kite off it, spending her brief time in the spotlight just swinging on the flight harness and ad-libbing horribly until the crew members bring her down and make her get off the stage.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Dick Van Dyke.
  • Tacky Tuxedo: A mix-up at the tuxedo rental place causes Anthony's tux to be given to someone else. The only tux they have left in his size is a decent powder blue one with a frilly shirt and a huge bow tie. He ends up wearing this to the prom. Well, he doesn't make it past dinner at least, but for other reasons.
  • The Reveal: It's not specified what the typo in Jump on the Potty is at first, only that it's inappropriate for a children's book. Then the celebrity reading starts...
  • Title Drop: Twice - once when Alex makes his wish, and again near the climax outside the Japanese restaurant.
  • Tempting Fate: When Alexander tells his family about the wish, Ben says they can still turn the day into a good one; it only gets worse.
  • This Ain't Rocket Surgery: When Ben assumes he failed his job interview, Kelly points out that he's a smart man, an actual rocket scientist, in fact.
  • Tyop on the Cover: In-universe example: The book Kelly is launching is supposed to be called Jump on the Potty. Instead, the title reads Dump on the Potty. This misprint is repeated throughout the entire book.
  • Unlucky Everydude: Alexander considers himself an "expert on bad days".