'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'
Based on the popular children’s book of the same name, ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’ can essentially be summed up by its title. It’s a slapstick family comedy about a bad day with all sorts of zany shenanigans and heartfelt lessons. It’s safe family fun just mediocre enough to kind of appeal to everyone without ever daring to be particularly funny or interesting.
Ed Oxenbould stars as Alexander, a kid who (get ready for a surprise) has a bad day. He’s wakes up with gum in his hair, his teacher assigns someone else his favorite country for a geography project, he’s humiliated by a photo text, and his 12th birthday is set to be ruined when the most popular kid in class schedules his party at the same time. It’s just awful and to make things worse, his family seem to have the greatest lives ever. His sister (Kerris Dorsey) is about to star in her school’s production of ‘Peter Pan’, his brother (Dylan Minnette) is about to get his driver’s license just in time for prom, his mother (Jennifer Garner) is about to launch a sweet kids’ book at work, and his father (Steve Carell) is about to land an awesome job at a videogame company.
Gosh! Why does life seem so easy for everyone other than Alexander? So, the boy does the only thing he can and wishes that his family could know what it’s like to have a very bad day like him. This is a Disney wish fulfillment fantasy, so it happens. Just be careful what you wish for, yadda yadda yadda…
From there, the mild slapstick of the first act gives way to heavy doses of slapstick in the second and third acts. Dorsey gets too sick to sing, so she drinks enough cold medicine to send her flying into the role of Peter Pan in the wrong way. Minnette has the most horrendous driving test since ‘License to Drive’ and is forced to wear a ‘Dumb and Dumber’ tux to prom. Garner has a poo-related misprint in her book that becomes a major issue at a celebrity reading hosted by Dick Van Dyke (probably the best part of the film, if only because it’s so bizarrely out of place). Carell has to contend with some baby vomit and pirate shirt schtick. It’s all so silly in a way that signals jokes loudly enough that you don’t even need to listen to the dialogue to figure out where the laughs are supposed to go. It’s bottom of the barrel family comedy designed to come around with a sentimental family-friendly ending. However, it’s safe to say that you could have guessed all that just from the title. ‘Alexander and the Terrible…’ etc. represents a certain type of G-rated family comedy that we all know extremely well. Thankfully, it’s a pretty good version of the same old routine.
First off, the cast are all too talented for this material and get more laughs out of their obvious gags than they have any right to. The movie comes from director Miguel Arteta, best known for dark, weird indie comedies like ‘Chuck and Buck’, ‘Youth in Revolt’, and the dearly missed HBO series ‘Enlightened’. Arteta obviously doesn’t steer this glossy Disney production down the dark paths that he usually takes, but he has a better visual style, sense of storytelling and skill with actors than these sorts of movies typically receive. Arteta and his cast are able to hit the panicked levels of lunatic you might find in a movie like ‘After Hours’ without ever leaving the cozy confines of Disney.
With lesser talent in charge, this could have been a direct-to-DVD embarrassment that was an insult to the target kiddie audience. With these fine folks, it’s a painless trek through the family comedy motions with a few genuine high points. The flick is no classic and offers few surprises, but it at least works and won’t waste a family afternoon in the theater. It’s forgettable fun, and in this genre that’s a compliment.