ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY Review

It's funny to think of the role that live action children's movies play in our current cinematic landscape because, for the most part, they seem to be easily dismissed. As a child of the 90's it is the kids sports flicks of the decade (The Sandlot, Little Giants, The Big Green, The Mighty Ducks) that immediately come to mind as nostalgic reminders of what a carefree stage in life that was which seems to be why new movies categorized as such don't register with a large audience due to the fact every generation already has their own adolescent picks. Those who are between eight and fifteen right now though will surely appreciate this adaptation of Judith Viorst's hit 1987 childrens book, but not necessarily because they love the source material but because Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a perfectly fun, perfectly suitable family movie that captures the ups and downs that middle class caucasians might typically encounter. These are first world problems we're dealing with, clearly, but they are relatable issues that the target audience will understand. The content operates on a level for those just below the cusp of when the Catcher in the Rye will blow their minds wide open. Alexander's Bad Day (as it will be referred to from here on out) is exactly the kind of remedy "tweens" these days need, but don't know it because not enough movies like this are being made anymore. That studios are seriously lacking in terms of pumping out quality entertainment for adolescents isn't something I necessarily have a right to complain about; I have all the nostalgia I need when the time calls for it (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Home Alone, Hook, Hocus Pocus, Blank Check, Homeward Bound, First Kid) but it would be nice to think that those in their current state of flux will have more than Alexander and his no good , very bad day to look back on when they get to college and reminisce about the movies they loved when they were "kids". All of that said, Alexander's Bad Day certainly isn't a bad place to start, but let's hope it is only the first step in a rejuvenated direction.

Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) begins his bad day by lighting the girl he likes notebook on fire.
Alexander's (Ed Oxenbould) day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by a classmate texting the entire school pictures of his head photoshopped on bikini bodies and is then swiftly followed up by the one-two punch of popular kid Philip Parker (Lincoln Melcher) throwing his birthday party on the same night as him and losing Australia (Alexander's favorite country) to Parker for their history report. As none of this really effects the rest of his family he finds little sympathy from them especially given the fact his father Ben (Steve Carell) is an eternal optimist and mother Kelly (Jennifer Garner) is always looking ahead. The scenario is also set-up where it is made clear Alexander is still adjusting to no longer being the baby of the bunch. After eleven years or so he became the older brother to baby Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas) and what would had to have been a few months after Trevor's birth his dad lost his job making him a stay at home parent. He sees his dad forming a bond with Trevor that he likely once held while his older siblings, Anthony (Dylan Minnette) and Emily (Kerris Dorsey), are riding high. Anthony is set to become the Duke at his jr. prom and is taking his drivers test so that he can drive what he proclaims as the "hottest girl in school" to the dance. Emily is a thespian in training and is set to play the lead in Peter Pan for her eighth grade play. To top all of this off, Mom has the opportunity to move up to vice president at the publishing house she works for while dad finally has a job interview at a video game design company. Though it is ridiculous every family member would have so much coinciding on a single day it naturally makes sense for the narrative. As these things go, Alexander ends up making a wish just after midnight on his birthday so that the rest of his family might know what it's like to experience one of his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days-one can imagine where things go from here.

So, the question is: what makes this such a tolerable movie rather than being one that patronizes its target audience? Mainly, it is the humor with which these characters take on everything being thrown at them and the charisma of Steve Carell that, like his character, steers things in a positive direction. This could have easily felt like a chore (bonus points for not overstaying its welcome and clocking in at a perfect 80 minutes) as it is more or less an exercise in piling on as many conflicts and unfortunate circumstances to this small group of people as it can, but it never folds under the pressure. These bad strokes of luck are all things we see coming, things we know will take bad turns after the glorious set-up the movie gives us, but the fun is in seeing exactly how these expected good fortunes go from unexpectedly bad to unbelievably worse. I laughed a lot more than I expected to going in and again, this is mainly due to the actors being able to make the humor seem inherent to the family dynamic. Sure, there are a few forced moments of intended humor that fall flat (most of which were all unwisely shown in the trailer) but more than this there is a sense of everyone being who they are instead of pandering to a rating. Minnette and Dorsey as the older siblings don't stick to stereotypes of brothers and sisters who don't get along, but instead are open and supportive of each others lives while still being expectantly narcissistic for their ages. They don't even pick on Alexander or disregard him in the way you'd expect given the titular characters tendency for bad luck and the string of adjectives that describe his days, but rather he is one of the gang who simply gets lost in the shuffle some times. It is not only refreshing to see this type of dynamic between the children of the house, but as it is Carell driving this thing it is even nicer to see him take on the role of stay-at-home dad without any reservations and no subplot about all he's sacrificed, but rather genuinely be invested in the goal of keeping everyone in his house as happy as they can be.

From left: Baby Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas), Alexander, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), Anthony (Dylan Minnette), Emily (Kerris Dorsey) and Ben (Steve Carell) make up the Cooper family who are not having the best of days. 
To describe Alexander's Bad Day for what it is would be to say that it's completely endearing. We buy into this family because they become recognizable humans to us rather than types and the humor is present enough that the running time breezes by while teaching everyone a very pleasing, idealistic lesson. There really isn't much more to say about a movie that falls so completely in the middle of everything without being exceptional and that is just what this movie does. If I were to make any other notes about it that I haven't covered already it would be to give Garner more credit than I have. The woman, who I've never been overly fond of as an actor, has really started to come into her own over the past few years understanding the power she can hold in supporting roles and accepting the fact she doesn't have to be the main name on the poster or carry the weight of the entire movie on her shoulders. Here, she is the one who comes closest to a "type" as the mom who works too much and never sees her kids because she is married to her job. It is Garner's character who has the most riding on her days activities when Alexander makes his wish and it is Garner's humble facade and ability to relate to Kelly that turns our standard expectations of her around. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention what are essentially cameos by Dick Van Dyke, Megan Mullally and Bella Thorne spice things up and add even more fun and surprise to the mix. Speaking of surprises, while I have heavily relied on how refreshing it is to see a live action film for children balance the scales so well, it is also strangely satisfying that the film has a somewhat disruptive sense of humor that isn't expected of it, but will do well to keep the parents chuckling right along with their kids. Anyone that can sneak penis jokes, cough syrup highs and Australian cowboy strippers into a Disney movie without it all being outwardly offensive gets serious cred in my books and director Miguel Artera (Cedar Rapids, Youth in Revolt) has done a fine job of mixing up the bag and delivering something we can all agree on with ease.