‘Alexander and the Bad Day’ Stands Out by Breaking Hollywood’s Unspoken Rule: Don’t Use Nuclear Families

Alexander_and_the_terrible_horrible_no_good_very_bad_day_xxlgThanks Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner. Thanks for being a part of a film that broke all the rules.

In your recent film together, Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, you accomplished something that no other non-animated or religious film did in 2014. In fact, as far as I can tell, no film did it in 2013 either. Actually, Alexander may very well be the first theatrically-released film produced by a major distribution company this decade (since 2010) to accomplish this.

Your major feat? You produced a film that focused on an entirely non-dysfunctional and loving nuclear family. That is, you made central to your movie a family that had a mom and a dad at home with kids—a family that wasn’t affected by divorce or abuse or otherwise dysfunctional or non-typical characteristics.

By Hollywood’s standards, that’s become a wildly avante-garde approach.

Was your film remarkably well-written, worthwhile of masterpiece status? Or, at least, worthy of an Oscar? Probably not. Was it the best acted, most well-crafted, or funniest film of the year? Not exactly.

But it was, in this day and age, groundbreaking. And it was good and certainly refreshing. And it deserves some recognition.

There was a time, of course, when Hollywood often produced films that identified families as nuclear and supportive, the family dynamic that has been proven to be most stabilizing in a society. We used to watch films like Home Alone, and Cheaper by the Dozen, and Father of the Bride, and Jingle all the Way, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids—where children were raised in families where, despite each of families’ quirks, were stable and supportive.

But in the last decade, that genre of filmmaking has all but disappeared.

In fact, for children born after 2005, Alexander is one of only a handful of theatrically-released non-animated films that actually shows the nuclear family as being normal.

Thanks for being bold enough to make such a film so that our kids could see that this “unconventional” type of family still exists.

Even in television, there were nuclear families in sitcoms up through the 1990s—like in Home Improvement, Family Matters, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Wonder Years, and Boy Meets World. But there isn’t a single sitcom on television today that shows the family as nuclear. Rather, we’ve become much more accustomed to the broken home—like in Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, and About a Boy—or the home without families in mind at all—like in Big Bang Theory, Two Broke Girls, and Community.

For decades, it seems, Hollywood has been so concerned (in many cases with good intentions) about normalizing the less-familiar—about being sensitive to diversity and difference—that they’ve done something remarkable (and alarming): they have seemingly found a way to marginalize the majority.

As I watched Alexander with my children at the theater this past weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder: have my kids (the oldest of whom is seven) ever seen a non-cartoon film in the theater that showcased a nuclear family? Would they likely see one in the next five years?

While there is certainly important value in creating films that provide awareness of all the varieties of family complexity, it is somewhat mind-boggling to think that very few children growing up today will see nuclear families in the media portrayed as normal. Rather, the nuclear family to the rising generation will have been portrayed as almost non-existent. Yet nearly 60 percent of families in the country today can still be labeled as nuclear! It’s no wonder there’s a decline in the desire to marry or that there’s a steep climb in divorces: in a media-soaked society, nuclear families are beginning to appear so uncommon that we are starting to believe they are!

As we raise our children through the next generation, it’s hard to fathom that what they see on the silver screen and on the television sets in their own home—barring some unfathomable cultural shift in Hollywood—will likely never portray the nuclear family as normal. Rather, the showing of a husband and wife living together with children in harmony with a unified goal will likely be increasingly portrayed as not only the exception, but as the extreme exception.

Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner, thanks for doing your part in putting the nuclear family back on the screen. And thanks, especially, for making it look so appealing. Who would have thought that what’s supposed to be commonplace could be so motivational?

One thought on “‘Alexander and the Bad Day’ Stands Out by Breaking Hollywood’s Unspoken Rule: Don’t Use Nuclear Families

  • February 5, 2015 at 11:35 am
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    True that. There is one current TV show I can think of with a nuclear family — The Middle. We don’t watch much TV at our house since there isn’t much that’s kid appropriate, but we do like The Middle.

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