Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is used to having terrible days, but his family seems to have everything sorted out; his Mum (Jennifer Garner) is a hotshot publisher, his Dad (Steve Carell) is a househusband with a new job on the horizon, his sister (Kerris Dorsey) has the lead in her school play, and his older brother (Dylan Minnette) is about to go to prom. At midnight on his 12th birthday, Alexander makes a wish that his family would know what it would be like to be in his shoes for once, and the next day turns out to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Based on Judith Viorst’s 1972 book of the same name, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is the story of how one person’s bad day can either alienate him, or bring him closer to those he loves. Of course, the film is really only inspired by the book, and takes the premise in a very different direction.
Ed Oxenbould does well in the lead role of Alexander. He is not the perfect child, and this is why audiences will warm to him, especially kids who can relate to his problems. Jennifer Garner, however, deserves better than this. She has very little to do except be sweet, and although we all know she can do this very well, it would be great to see her stretch herself, and be given a role with more to it. She’s fine, but she deserves more as an actress. The same goes for Steve Carell, who again, is fine, but has a way bigger range and way too much talent to play a hopeless dad. Dylan Minette and Kerris Dorsey do fine in their roles as well, as does Bella Thorne, who plays Minette’s demanding girlfriend.
Rob Lieber’s screenplay brings Alexander’s worst day into the present, with Carell’s character interviewing for a gaming company, photoshopped iPhone pictures and all the other things that kids these days worry about. In doing this however, Lieber shifts the focus away from Alexander and firmly onto the family as a whole, meaning that this is really not Alexander’s story any more, but a generic family comedy where people have to band together in order to get through the bad stuff. This is a nice enough message, but the film ends up feeling generic and episodic as a result.
Director Miguel Arteta has bounced around TV for a while – with credits on Six Feet Under, Nurse Jackie and American Horror Story to his name – but has also directed two great indie films; The Good Girl and Youth in Revolt. The well observed touches in his previous work are not on show here, with Alexander and his family bouncing from disaster to disaster, without the audience really getting to know them as people.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is the perfect example of a family friendly film that has nothing to offer the older members of the audience. Kids will enjoy the antics that the family gets up to, but parents, unless you have always wanted to see Steve Carell kicked by a kangaroo, there is little for you here. It’s not that this is a bad film; it’s just a rather vanilla one.