Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pass the Popcorn: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Movies were such an important part of my teen years.

In my neighborhood, on Manhattan's upper westside, we had a number of different theatres. The Beacon, now a famous venue for bands, was showing blockbusters then. Five minutes away, there were the Embassy, the Paramount and two Cinema Studios, side-by-side auditoriums that tended toward smaller indies and foreign films. Directly across Broadway was the Regency, which specialized in sliverscreen classics, organized into wonderful monthly festivals by genre or star or studio. But after all these years, the only one left is Loews 83rd, which somehow expanded (and apparently moved a block) into the AMC Loews 84th. It's now been supersized (along with everything at McDonalds) into a 6-auditorium multiplex. I haven't been there, but I've heard they have cushy reclining seats.

At any rate, growing up in New York City in the 1970s, with no cars or malls or digital devices, movies were a frequent and favorite teen-time free-time pastime. 

Today in the suburbs in the 2010s? Not so much. 

After all, kids have access to so much media on so many devices pretty much all the time. It typically takes a major motion picture event — something along the line of The Hunger Games — to motivate my teenage daughter to head to an actual, analog, real-life, box-office-and-tickets-and-concession-stands theatre.

So, when we recently saw a preview for the new Disney movie Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, AND we both thought it looked fun, AND then I happened to get an offer for "exclusive VIP" sneak preview tickets, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. Fortunately, my daughter had only an unrealistic amount of homework (as opposed to an insane amount of homework), and she wanted to go.

The multiplex was a half an hour drive away, in unrelenting rain, after a long day of attending school for her and leading a copywriting workshop for me. We got lost on the way and we were both getting over colds ... but, we went for it. The only snafu (other than the aforementioned weather and fatigue and confusing directions) was that the popcorn line was too long (why do these giant theatre complexes always have two people trying to help two hundred hungry patrons?). We gave up, went in to choose our seats and figured we could eat something after.

The theatre was packed (I guess we weren't such "exclusive VIPs" after all) with lots of families and little kids. But, they soon quieted down and everyone was almost immediately engaged with young Alexander and his birthday-from-hell. Actually, the whole premise of the movie is that Alexander is the only one in his family who doesn't lead a charmed life (as his older brother says, "hashtag blessed"). So, he wishes that they could experience what it's like to be him. And — voila! — they do. His out-of-work dad (Steve Carrell, whom I adore) finally has a break in his job search which is hilariously sabotaged by a marker-eating baby, a pirate shirt, and a Japanese barbecue gone blazingly bad. His mom (Jennifer Garner) is up for a promotion at her publishing company when an insidious typo in her book Who's Ready to Jump on the Potty not only destroys her chances but earns her the wrath of an elderly Dick Van Dyke. His older brother ends up car-less, license-less, and girlfriend-less on the night of the prom (in a powder blue tux, no less). And his aspiring actress sister plays a most mixed-up and memorable Peter Pan after downing an inordinate amount of particularly potent cough syrup.

Still optimistic, the family asserts that the day can't get any worse. Of course, it does. Enter, a crocodile in their living room and the "Thunder Down Under" in their backyard. It all ended happily, of course. And, except that we were starving (Really! WTF with the popcorn line, movie theatre people?), we had a wonderful time.

On the way home (after we got lost again, twice, looking for Panera), we talked about school and friends and work and plans ... it was just great. We talked about whether she was ready  for college (she's not), and whether she will be in 23 months (she will). We talked about our family's values and the fact that she's growing up (into a fairly remarkable person, I might add). I can't remember the last time we had such a heart-to-heart.

It was worth rallying after a long day. It was worth driving an hour (we won't include the unplanned detours). It was even worth watching a whole movie without popcorn. (Really?)

In fact, I'd go so far as to say it wasn't "terrible, horrible, no good or very bad" at all.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at  

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