Alibi V.23 No.41 • Oct 9-15, 2014 

Film Review

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Kid-centric comedy is better than its many adjectives

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Cast: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould

Now make a wish and blow out your homework.
Now make a wish and blow out your homework.

Miguel Arteta (director of such edgy, borderline uncomfortable comedies as Star Maps, Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt and Cedar Rapids) isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you’re trying to find someone to helm Hollywood’s newest family film outing. And yet, here he is, directing an adaptation of Judith Viorst’s beloved 1972 picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Much like the book, the film chronicles one very lousy day in the life of 12-year-old Alexander. You see, Alexander (mop-topped Ed Oxenbould of the Australian TV series “Puberty Blues”) is the original hard-luck kid. Nothing ever goes right for him. He’s forever waking up with gum in his hair, forgetting his homework and losing his lunch. His family, on the other hand, has it easy. They’re all happy, well-adjusted go-getters. On the eve of his (sure to be disastrous) birthday, Alex wishes that his family could—if only for one day—see what it’s like to be him. And so begins an epic series of comic mishaps for Alex’ family.

Alexander isn’t what you’d call a particularly deep film. It’s really just a series of inventive slapstick sequences tacked together. And yet, Arteta gives the film a quiet undercurrent of preteen melancholy and social awkwardness that grounds it surprisingly well in the real world.

Dad (Steve Carell, gamely underplaying) has a terrible job interview with a hip video game company. Mom (Jennifer Garner) bungles the launch of a new kid’s book. Sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey, “Brothers & Sisters”) catches a wicked cold on the eve of her school play debut. And brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette, “Saving Grace”) scrambles to save his junior prom night from utter collapse.

In the midst of all this PG-rated, Hangover-style chaos, Alexander is having a pretty good day. Things actually look like they’re working out for him. But the pain (in some cases literally) that his family is going through starts to make him feel guilty. Is his sincere wish responsible of his family’s misfortune, or is this just a terrible, horrible ... Oh, you know the rest.

Alexander isn’t what you’d call a particularly deep film. It’s really just a series of inventive slapstick sequences tacked together. And yet, Arteta gives the film a quiet undercurrent of preteen melancholy and social awkwardness that grounds it surprisingly well in the real world. He also moves it along at a brisk enough pace that not even the film’s more preposterous moments linger too long on the palate. Eschewing the sort of CGI fantasy that drives most “family” films these days, Alexander is a kid-centric film that doesn’t need gimmicks to sell its manic, breezy, silly and ultimately sweet take on family unity.