Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Premise: Based on the book by Judith Viorst. A twelve year old boy (Ed Oxenbould) and his family suffer through a day of disasters.
What Works: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is based on a children’s book, so it should come as no surprise that the movie is primarily geared toward kids. Aside from animated features, there is precious little at the box office that is suitable for family audiences and so on some level, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day gets a pass because it fills a niche that used to be occupied by movies like Mary Poppins, The Sandlot and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This movie is better than some of the recent family oriented movies like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, primarily because the characters are much more likable. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day features a pretty good cast doing the best they can with the material. The title character is played by Ed Oxenbould and he fills the role well enough. The film also features a pair of notable performers in the role of his parents: Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner. When the filmmakers allow Carrell and Garner to do their thing—Carrell as the awkward outsider and Garner as the sweet but overwhelmed professional—the movie works pretty well.
What Doesn’t: The fact that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is at its best when it isolates the parents from their kids is indicative of the problems of this movie. Those who read the book when they were kids, or have read it to their own children, know that everything in it that is terrible, horrible, not good, and very bad happens to Alexander. This movie fundamentally changes the story so that Alexander is a bystander while his parents and siblings suffer through one indignity after another. Changing the book isn’t necessarily bad—it is necessary in order to inflate the story to fit a feature length—but in this case the filmmakers have fundamentally altered the original text to such a degree that it no longer resembles the source. The book was about a boy complaining about a lousy day but realizing that this is how life is sometimes. The value of the book was rooted in the character suffering through a lousy day and learning to cope with it, thus preparing its young readers for the challenges of real life. The movie misses the whole point and when it does try to deliver a message about struggle it’s done in a way that even kids will recognize as stupid. Although Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a kid’s movie, that’s no excuse for presenting the story with such a toe-curling cheesiness. This film come up short in nearly every respect. The terrible scenarios don’t have a whole lot of weight or credibility and they are made worse because the family members make stupid decisions. For instance, the family owns two cars and the day starts with one of the car batteries dying. Instead of using one of the cars to jump the other, the family packs into a single automobile and spends the day trekking between errands. That’s symptomatic of another problem with this movie. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day could be retitled First World Problems: The Movie. Nothing anyone goes through is really that terrible and the filmmakers undercut the whole premise of the story by tying off the narrative with a nonsensical and asynchronous happy ending. All this might be more tolerable if the movie were more fun but it’s not very amusing. The gags are usually lame and even Steve Carrell, who is one of the best comic performers working today, has his humor muted.
Bottom Line: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a mediocre movie that often feels like an after school special. The film isn’t very entertaining nor does it capture the qualities that have kept the book in print for over forty years.
Episode: #513 (October 19, 2014)