Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Movie Discussion

alex

Most of us are familiar on some level with the story of Alexander’s fantastically horrible day. The general lesson of which is that bad days happen but they aren’t the end. It’s a helpful idea for little ones who don’t know how to handle it when things go wrong. They need to hear that bad days happen. The movie makes young Alexander the voice of “bad day” experience for his family. It’s cute and absurd in a way that works, and the message is positive, but for Christians, we have a much better message to offer.

Disclaimer: I want to say, right up front (for any parents who may be thinking about taking their family)—check the parental advisories first. There were some uncomfortable and, I thought, inappropriate moments considering the intended audience. Most notably, Alex’s mom walks in on her 16 year old son…nothing is shown, but it leads to several more very awkward moments including some ongoing “penis” discussion.   

Alexander has bad days all the time. His family, however, all seem to be “hashtag blessed” as his brother puts it. They are all getting “big wins” every day. Everything is going their way. It’s not that Alexander would wish otherwise for them, but he feels alone because no one seems to understand what it’s like to not have every day be “hashtag blessed”. So he makes a wish for his birthday that they would understand what it’s like to have a bad day. That’s when things begin to go horribly, terribly wrong for everyone else in the family.

Here are the good things you’ll see in the story. The family does a great job of pulling together to support each other.  They truly enter into each other’s joy and sorrow. They care about each other. The Bible says to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another.”[1] They do that pretty well.

That passage in the Bible goes on to say, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Alexander’s brother, Anthony demonstrates this…eventually. His girlfriend is “the hottest girl in school” but she is also extremely haughty. In the end, he decides to break up with her and skip prom so he can, instead, go to Alexander’s birthday party. Do a high-school junior who is about to crowned prom king, an awkward much younger brother is “the lowly.” Not only does he go to Alexander’s birthday, but he gets involved and serves by cooking food on the barbecue.

If we continue on in Romans, we read:

Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We see that kind of humility and even wisdom in Alexander (as well as the rest of his family). His response to his family’s trials is not to rejoice, not to Lord it over them, not to be the “expert” on bad days, but to lovingly help them through it best he could. Not only that, but even after feeling left out at school, picked on and uncool…even after everyone, including his best friend, had decided to go to someone else’s birthday party because it was going to be the cooler event, Alexander still chose to act with grace. He didn’t rejoice when the cool kid got chicken pox and had to cancel his party. He didn’t hold any grudges. Didn’t take any opportunity to get revenge. He graciously invited everyone to his party without any bitterness about being the second choice. He truly demonstrated overcoming challenges (whether they were evil or simply unfortunate) with good.

So, there are lots of good messages in the movie, messages that are even in line with scripture. The ultimate message in the movie, however, falls a little flat. Towards the end, Ben, Alexander’s dad, loses it a little. He starts kicking around some trash cans, complaining about how awful the day has been—until his family catches him at it. He immediately stops and tries to put on a brave face and be positive. Alexander steps in and says, “You don’t always have to ‘steer your ship with positivity’. Some days are just bad and nothing can fix it. I think you just got to have the bad days so you can love the good days even more.” It was as if someone finally gave the family permission to be honest and they all joined in and kicked a can and said something in agreement about the horrible, terrible day it had been. Then they rallied and moved on.

So far so good in many ways. There is some truth in this. There are bad days and there are good days and it’s good to give ourselves permission to be honest about both. Just as it’s good to know that there are some acceptable ways to express this and some unacceptable ways. The movie indicates that you can feel this for a moment, and then move on. You don’t have to get stuck and wallow in the bad moments, or days. And sometimes, the things you thought were bad turn out for good…which is what happened with Alexander’s family. All good things, good messages.

There is, however, a better message. Part of Alexander’s frustration with his family is that they were too perfect and too positive. They weren’t honest about the fact that life could be hard and in the end, it still feels a little like they are making that mistake. For someone who has dealt with real hard times, this movie might feel a little trite. The real hope that we need isn’t just that we have good days and bad days, or that “things always work out in the end” as people love to say. The real hope we need is that there is a sovereign God who loves us who is able to work all things for the good[2]. Somehow.  It’s not just that “things work out” nebulously and so we just need to be positive and look for the silver lining. It’s better than that. God, in His infinite wisdom, glory and love is working all things to His glory and our good. We don’t just have to rely on our positive outlook to make sense of things; we get to rely on a loving God with an eternal perspective. That is much better news.

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Alexander concluded the movie with this: “After today, I know that even terrible days aren’t that bad …when you’re surrounded by people you love. For us, the worse things get, this family just gets better.” Not everyone has a family who “gets better” when things get worse. Sometimes things don’t turn around on this earth, but Alexander is right that the bad days are better when you’re surrounded by love. And while not everyone is surrounded by loving people, we all have the option of being surrounded by a loving God. And the worse things get, the better HE gets.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What good examples did you see in Alexander and his family?
  • How did Alexander’s family show that they rejoiced with those who rejoiced, and wept with those who wept?
  • How did Alexander’s family show that they supported each other?
  • What good messages can you learn from Alexander?
  • The Bible says not to be haughty but to associate with the lowly. How did Anthony learn this lesson?
  • How did Alexander’s family handle their frustrations about their day? What do you do with your negative emotions (anger, frustration, etc.)?
  • The bad things that happened turned out for good in many ways. Have bad things turned out for the best in your life too? Explain.
  • Do you feel like your family gets better when things get bad? Are they there for you?
  • Alexander felt like no one understood him. Do you ever feel that way?
  • Which gives you greater hope: “things always work out” / “things work out like they’re supposed to” OR “God is able to work all things out for the good”? Why?

Click here to read quotes from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

[1] Romans 12:15-21

[2] Romans 8:28

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