With the recent news that Disney will reignite the movie adaptation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, the introverted grumpy child in some of us has been rekindled. I’ve been following this project for years now for a number of reasons. Firstly, I actually quite enjoy the sub-genre of live action films that are too heady to be outright children’s films, but too grounded in a sense of innocence to be an all-out adult story. I’d count Where the Wild Things Are as a paramount example of this type of film. These projects tend to flop in the box office since they aren’t easily categorized, often containing loftier ideas than most mainstream movies at all.
Secondly, I was interested in this project because of the involvement of director Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) and star Steve Carell. Cholodenko will work from her own script, making me assume this is a personal project for her. The only way for a story like Alexander to work is if it comes from the perspective of a person who, at 5 years old, understood this boy’s plight. Even if Alexander didn’t exist as a book, his surly need for seclusion will always exist in some of us at that age.
Finally, I’m most interested in this project because when I was 5 years old, I believed I was Alexander. He was the 2D, almost breathing, fully imagined, invisible best friend that I never had. He was my childhood mentor. Not Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones or Howard the Duck. Alexander. The boy who was just having a bad friggin’ day.
In some ways, I feel like Alexander was one of the most positive aspects of my childhood. I guess for some kids it was just a cute little story, but for others it was a comment on their lives. While most were playing sports, following comic strips, or dreaming of being in The Goonies, I was one of those “special” kids who liked to spend time alone, reading and thinking. Alexander was exciting not because it assured me I was “Okay” like a cheesy PSA on Sesame Street, but because it made it so darn funny to be weird. The story faces self-deprecation head-on in a way I can’t imagine a popular children’s story ever would today. Being grumpy was hilarious, honest, and relatable. I identified with Alexander’s cantankerous ways and, above all, I wanted to reach inside the story and tell everyone to just “Leave him alone!” It sounds corny to say Alexander was my first real friend, but for a second there, I know that was true. I don’t think I’m the only one.
Alas, the Goonies-Superhero-Sports kids have obviously won the race of public consciousness and consumption. It’s safe to say many of them are now young investment bankers or on the writing staff for The New Girl. But there’s still those Alexander kids out there. I’m terrified to know what they are doing with their lives, but I know they are out there. Just like me. Are there enough to make this a profitable film? Probably not. Which is why I fear the emotional resonance will be lost on trying to make this palatable for a generation of kids now feigning for the iPhone 5. However, the talent involved is top-notch, so perhaps the idea is to reach out to those ‘Alexanders’, young and old, who inevitably still exist. Maybe, just maybe, this will be our momentary transport to “Australia” with Alexander and his family. I’m not holding my breath, but a boy can dream.