Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is not a lucky lad. If anything can go wrong for him it will — and to make matters worse everyone else in his family seems to be having a great time of it. His older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette, “Prisoners”) is the school heart-throb and has only gone and bagged himself the hottest girl in school; his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey, “Moneyball”) is about to play the lead role of Peter Pan in her school play; his baby brother Trevor (played by Elise and Zoey Vargas) is stealing all his mom’s attention and his parents’ careers look like they could be on the up.
After one particularly bad day that involves finding out that the most popular kid in school’s birthday party clashes with his, an unfortunate text campaign being launched against him, setting fire to a girl he likes’ science notes and much more, he decides he’s had enough. Feeling like it’s his family’s turn to know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day he makes a wish to that volition when blowing out his birthday candles and all hell breaks loose.
Based on a children’s book of the same name by Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is packaged as a kids film with Alexander kicking off the story as the main protagonist. Halfway through, however, we lose Alexander in among all his families’ misdemeanors and they become the main focus. It’s at this turning point that the film feels more like a stereotypical Steve Carell vehicle as opposed to a Walt Disney picture aimed at kids. Yet even though Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a little confused on its tone, there’s still more than enough physical comedy to amuse the kids whilst keeping mom and dad entertained.
On that front, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has a bevy of top-notch cast members who aren’t afraid to dirty themselves up, most notably Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner who steal the show as Alexander’s parents. The audience is also treated to a fine supporting performance from Jennifer Coolidge as Anthony’s formidable driving test instructor. On the whole the kiddie cast fare well too: Dylan Minnette proves he’s almost ready to make that leap into adult roles and Kerris Dorsey gives great “self-obsessed luvie.” The only one who doesn’t come across so well is our main protagonist, Oxenbould. He doesn’t do a bad job; he just doesn’t possess the appeal needed for a lead role.
The slapstick routines they all endure reaches the point of actually becoming stressful too. Director Miguel Arteta, aiming for the easy laughs, overloads the film with them, missing more substantial opportunities, although he does get a few in like a high as a kite on cough syrup Emily coming out to perform on opening night or a cameo from Dick Van Dyke where he persists in doing a reading to a group of children, disastrous typo and all. But hey, I suppose there is only so much balancing that can be done when a prom, a birthday party and a school play all end up on the same night within the same family.
But by the end of the film things calm down and we are reminded that this is indeed a film for kids, as we have a life lesson forced upon us which most adult viewers could no doubt do without. This can be overlooked though as, on the whole, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a not terrible, not horrible, good, not bad film that youngsters and adults (in spite of their better judgement) will enjoy.