There are bad days, and then there are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. It's an unavoidable fact of life that luck will not always be in one's favora truth which 11-year-old Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is intimately familiar. What he doesn't realize is that everyone has them, and at the end of it all is usually a silver lining. Loosely based on Judith Viorst's classic 1972 children's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is a relatively slight but warm-hearted family comedy that keeps things buzzing along for a fleet, just-right 81 minutes. Indie director Miguel Arteta (he of 2002's "The Good Girl
" and 2011's "Cedar Rapids
") and first-time scribe Rob Lieber give the film an observant attention to character in between the comically charged havoc, helping to center the proceedings each time it threatens to jump the rails (and it comes mighty close when a kangaroo enters the scene).
Alexander has had a rotten day. He should be excited that his twelfth birthday is tomorrow, but from the moment he woke up things have not gone his way. He got gum in his hair, he destroyed crush Becky Gibson's (Sidney Fullmer) lab notes and nearly burned down his classroom in science class, and everyone in his grade is planning to attend popular kid Philip's (Lincoln Melcher) blowout birthday bash instead. Frustrated at the world, he makes a wish that his family will experience a day just as awful as the one he just had. When Alexander awakes, it doesn't take long for him to realize his wish might have come true. His mom, harried publishing house editor Kelly (Jennifer Garner), finds her promotion threatened when a major misprint in a new children's book threatens the respectability of the company. When their babysitter cancels, out-of-work dad Ben (Steve Carell) has no choice but to take baby Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas) to an important job interview. Teenage brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) tries to make things right with high-maintenance girlfriend Celia (Bella Thorne) in time for the junior prom, then accidentally gets suspended from school and fails his driver's test. Sister Emily's (Kerris Dorsey) acting debut in the school production of "Peter Pan" is put into jeopardy when she comes down with a nasty cold. As Alexander watches as the day goes from bad to worse, he cannot help but feel as if he is to blame for everyone's misfortune.
"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is a live-action, PG-rated Disney feature that doesn't sanitize or talk down to its audience. Some minor bawdy humor is on hand, but it is neither forced nor unctuous and gives the script a nice, little edge. Alexander is portrayed by charming newcomer Ed Oxenbould, whose unaffected nature and slight lisp help to make him all the more authentic and identifiable. He has a fair share of help from his more experienced co-stars, but he carries the story all the same and proves to be a winning presence. Alexander is not a selfish childhe genuinely cares about his family, even if he is prone to frustration and a bit of jealousyand this is a key attribute in why he remains likable and worth following.
Much of the fun of the picture is in seeing how Alexander's parents and siblings deal with their own struggles. Jennifer Garner (2014's "Men, Women & Children
") nicely plays Kelly as understandably stressed out about her demanding job taking her away from her kids. As her tight-shipped boss Nina, Megan Mullally (2013's "The Kings of Summer
") is so high-strung and funny it is a shame she only has a few minutes of screen time in the first half before disappearing entirely. The same stands for Jennifer Coolidge (2012's "American Reunion
"), whose scene as Anthony's reverse-psychology-loving driving instructor is the film's most inspired comedic moment. Steve Carell (2013's "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
") is a reliable rock as Ben, a regular dad who is willing to put his children before everything else. Dylan Minnette (2013's "Prisoners
") and Kerris Dorsey (2011's "Moneyball
") amicably round out the Cooper clan as older brother and sister Anthony and Emily, both of them finding perspective in the things they have spent the day worrying about. Finally, Bella Thorne (2014's "Blended
") has a luminous joie de vivre
about her that shines through even as she fills the relatively thankless role of Anthony's superficial girlfriend Celia. She is destined for great things in her future.
"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is only laugh-out-loud funny a handful of times, but it is pleasing and sweet for most of the duration. While Kelly's workplace subplot sputters out with little payoff, the episodic nature of the narrative ensures that the film as a whole never runs out of gas. When the occasional scene doesn't work (as is the case with the aforementioned showdown with Carell and a kangaroo), it is usually over and done with quickly. For all of their mishaps, the Coopers are a normal, sympathetic unita keen example of how families should stand by and support each other. The struggles they face, in general, are our own, and this is a crucial reason why author Judith Viorst's original tale has continued to endure and resonate with children and parents over the span of forty-plus years. While not quite the classic the book is, this genial film adaptation follows suit with comparable ideas and valuable sentiments.