Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language
Running Time: 81 min.

Cast: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullaly, Sidney Fullmer
Small role: Jennifer Coolidge, Dick Van Dyke
Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenplay: Rob Lieber (based on the book by Judith Viorst)

Review published October 11, 2014

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a loose Disney adaptation of the 1972 children's book by Judith Viorst, expanded greatly to fill up a (still short-ish) full-length run time. 

In this one, it's not just soon-to-be-12-years-old Alexander Cooper (Oxenbould, Paper Planes) who has the bad day, but he wishes that his family could also experience a bad day of their own so that they'd understand how hard it is for him.  Wish becomes reality when the whole family, save for Alexander, have a disastrous day of epic proportions -- a day that includes a job interview, a book publishing, a school prom, a driver's test, and a debut in the school play.  Not the best day to pick to have a family fiasco.

Alexander benefits from terrific casting of likeable and amusing actors up and down the line, starting with Ed Oxenbould as the titular protagonist, who is cast every bit for his ability to play an average awkward kid and not because he's the cutest tyke around.  Carell (Anchorman 2, Despicable Me 2) and Garner (Draft Day, Dallas Buyers Club) are incredibly ingratiating as Alexander's parents, and put in good comic performances in a film in which they're often not the main focus.  Minnette (Labor Day, Prisoners)and Dorsey (Moneyball, Walk the Line) as Alexander's older brother and sister, respectively, are very fun to watch in their scenes, with both showing a gift for physical comedy.

Much of the humor is a combination of farce, slapstick, and typical family comedy bits involving baby fluid eruptions and grade school antics.  Though the level of humor is primarily aimed at tweens and younger, I will say that, though I'm a man well into adulthood, Alexander made me laugh out loud on about a handful of occasions, and I'm a tough sell in the audible laughter department.

Problems in the movie may dog adults, but kids will likely not know or care about such things.  For instance, it seems unlikely that a teen would choose a drivers test on the exact day of the school prom, and that that same teen would be allowed to attend the school prom even though he was suspended from school, and that same teen would be suspended from school for damaging school property when it was so clearly an accident and not deliberate vandalism.  And what school is debuting new productions of plays so close to the end of the school year in which a prom would take place? For a family that has suffered a setback by the father being out of work for months, they sure like to spend money on lavish birthday parties for their children. 

Directed by a solid helmer in indie comedy darling Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids, Youth in Revolt), the film begins to falter a bit as it draws toward the end, with a celebration of sorts that includes some inane silliness like an alligator that roams freely around the house and a feisty, CGI-created kangaroo.  Such overreaching for forced laughs in a movie that's otherwise hitting its marks in the comedy department is deflating, but these moments are not the norm, and most are confined to the end, after we've already had our entertainment quotient filled.  It's a bit refreshing to see, in this age of safe and homogenized Disney family films, the movie isn't afraid of dabbling with PG-13 bawdy-potty humor, but never quite crosses the line of good taste that would break the tone.

When Arteta and first-time screenwriter Lieber manage to not labor for laughs, the film finds a nice sweet-spot of pleasant geniality, and with some funny comic performances by an appealing cast, it's entertaining enough to provide for an amiable distraction for its mere 80-minute span -- perfect for the shot attentions span of most children -- and adults stuck in a movie aimed at kids.

Qwipster's rating::

2014 Vince Leo