With Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey. Written by Rob Lieber. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language. 81 minutes.
Movies often change the titles of the books they are based on, but for some reason the title of Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book was consider too good to waste. So, in spite of its awkwardness at the theater, where parents will undoubtedly mangle it or just call it “Alexander,” we get the big screen version of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY.
This is a movie that will hit the sweet spot for tweens and youngsters, and will leave most everyone else glad it’s only 81 minutes long. Its protagonist is Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), an ordinary kid who is having the titular bad day. Among the things that go wrong are the most popular kid in his class is having a birthday party the same day as his, and even his best friend is bailing on him. Worse, he accidentally sets the chem lab on fire with the notebook of the girl he’s trying to impress. No, it’s no fun being Alexander and he gets no sympathy from his parents (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner) or his older siblings (Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey). It’s not that they’re mean. It’s just that they’ve got their own lives to deal with.
So Alexander makes himself an ice cream sundae to console himself and puts a birthday candle on it to make a wish: that the rest of the family suffers a day like he just had. The bulk of the movie is the hilarity–well, supposed hilarity–of the rest of the family, including his baby brother, having everything go wrong. This includes his sister getting a cold when she’s supposed to be starring in the school’s production of “Peter Pan,” the baby getting a hold of an indelible marker and painting his face green, and Mom not catching an unfortunate typo in the children’s book her company is releasing. Where Froggie is supposed to take a jump, all the Js in the book have mysteriously turned into Ds.
For someone who is, say, nine or ten, this should be hilarious. What’s nice is that the film isn’t merely about mocking the other members of the family. They are also shown to be talented and loving and not quite deserving of all the chaos that ensues from Alexander’s wish. By the time his brother is taking a driving test (with Jennifer Coolidge as the tester), Alexander is pleading with him to reschedule. Ultimately the movie is about how family members need to look out for and be loyal to each other, and that’s not such a bad message.
The acting is about what you’d expect in this sort of cartoonish material. Carrell and Garner are perfect sitcom parents, alternately foolish and ideal. Dad has to go to a job interview in a pirate blouse because his daughter has thrown up on him from taking too much cold medicine, but then shows he has both the smarts and the ability to have fun that impresses his younger would-be employers. By the time he’s chasing a kangaroo down the street (Alexander has a thing about Australia) there’s no reason to take any of this seriously.
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is an okay, mildly amusing, fast-paced, very entertaining movie… provided you haven’t yet hit puberty.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.