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

I would like to believe we have all read Judith Viorst's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," though it may be that only a those of a certain generation (and, by extension, their parents) are among those who have done so. It's an innocent, amusing, little book, telling of a young boy's terrible day. It had a simple message, more by implication than literal, that this new film adaptation, as directed by Miguel Arteta and adapted by Rob Lieber, takes great strides to spell out for its viewers, but there's a hitch: Shifting the burden of the very bad day upon Alexander's (Ed Oxenbould, a complete natural in front of the camera with a bright future in this business ahead of him) immediate family means there have to be emotional stakes. The trouble with Lieber's tone is that a lot of this is neither innocent nor amusing any longer.

Sure, Alexander is still a likable presence in cinematic form, though the movie sort of sidelines him to focus more heavily on his parents, Ben and Kelly (Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner, both terrific); Ben is a video-game designer, though currently unemployed and trying to secure job interviews, and Kelly is in public relations with a firm about to sell the rights to a children's book about bathroom training. Alexander's older brother and sister are Anthony (Dylan Minnette), a cool guy with a hot girlfriend named Celia (Bella Thorne) and plans to take her to prom once he gets his driver license, and Emily (Kerris Dorsey), an aspiring actress who's just landed the part of Peter Pan in a school play. Trevor is the resident infant of the family.

Alexander has had a terrible day; in fact, Alexander has had a string of terrible days since Trevor was born. His birthday is tomorrow, and everyone's going to another kid's party (Even his best friend has to admit that the party sounds dope). He wishes upon a birthday sundae that all of them would understand where he is coming from, and then the movie turns into a farcical affair about that terrible day (a late morning for each of the parents, acne and a failed driver's test for the brother on the day of prom, a cold for the sister on the day of the play). Unfortunately, there are enough bitter truths to learn and necessary brick walls into which the family must run that "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is at an impasse: It's too fluffy and akin to cotton-candy to work as drama, but it's too bent on trying to hit those notes to work as comedy.

Film Information

Steve Carell (Ben Cooper), Jennifer Garner (Kelly Cooper), Ed Oxenbould (Alexander Cooper), Dylan Minnette (Anthony Cooper), Kerris Dorsey (Emily Cooper), Bella Thorne (Celia), Sidney Fullmer (Becky Gibson), Megan Mullally (Nina), Mekai Matthew Curtis (Paul Dumphy), Lincoln Melcher (Philip Parker), Dick Van Dyke (Himself).

Directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Rob Lieber, based on the book by Judith Viorst.

Rated PG (rude humor including reckless behavior, language).

81 minutes.

Released on October 10, 2014.

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