“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day may have its missteps, as it sometimes oversteps the crude boundary in terms of how childish its dialog wants to be, but even that is buoyed by some rather risque but good-natured material.”
I’m sure anyone who read my three scathing reviews of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film franchise assumed I’d deliver a similarly scathing review to the film adaptation of the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a book that was read to me about fifteen to twenty times cover-to-cover when I was a child. Right off the bat, the film, judging from the marketing campaign’s focus and trailers, was headed down the road of being a part of the “maximum antics, minimum laughter” subgenre, or the kind of children’s film that is unsubstantial and dreadfully harmful to the attention span of its audiences.
I report back with a surprising amount of optimism; “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is a thoroughly pleasant affair, greatly reminiscent of the kinds of films my generation grew up with, released in the nineties or early 2000’s. It has the right amount of geniality to appeal to kids of all ages, but the right balance of humor to remain surprisingly mature, in the face when so many jokes are made and could look to cater to the lowest common denominator of childish humor. The biggest problem with children’s films nowadays is their impulsion to include extremely unnecessary amounts of bathroom humor, awful situational comedy, and cheap, inane sloganeering (see Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” for the best example of this).
Alexander doesn’t compromise at that, effectively finding the heart and natural humor of its situational comedy without trying to make it brazenly clear with an abundance of awful screenwriting. Writer Rob Lieber is essentially writing this story on a terrain filled with mines and hazards, but finds the humor in the actual situation over what the characters could possibly say to further decorate or emphasize the current scenario. It doesn’t overplay jokes, it moves with commendable fluidity through its barrage of “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” events that span the course of a day, and, quite frequently, is laugh-out-loud funny.
The story concerns the Cooper family, made up of the family patriarch Ben (Steve Carell), who is seeking a new job, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), an author of children’s books, Anthony (Dylan Minnette), the oldest of the couple’s siblings, looking to get his license and attend prom with his inconsiderate, stuck-up girlfriend (Bella Thorne), Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who is looking forward to her starring role in “Peter Pan,” the couple’s infant toddler, in love with his bumblebee pacifier, and, finally, twelve-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), who’s birthday happens to be the day the family experiences the day from Hell. For starters, everybody wakes up late with their own individual problem, and the worst possible circumstances plague this family so much so that Emily can only label the day as “cursed” over and over again.
The film progresses by showing each individual catastrophe unfold in a way that doesn’t feel so much perfunctory as it does a screenwriting exercise on behalf of Lieber to try and extract all the humor that can be brought out of a situation rather than the dialog that can be added in as it occurs. In addition, the film never tries to delude itself by justifying the events of the day as being some sort of “learning experience” or having the characters incessantly “look on the bright side” of things. The characters have no qualms admitting that the day has sucked, and little to no elements concerning self-delusion are ever proposed.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day may have its missteps, as it sometimes oversteps the crude boundary in terms of how childish its dialog wants to be, but even that is buoyed by some rather risque but good-natured material (including one uproariously funny zinger by Garner, which is only continued by Carell). The film is one of the most fun kid films of the year, but as somebody studying writing in college, we may need to talk about redundancy and an overuse of adjectives in the film’s title, which may be the film’s biggest issue. Anybody who can approach the ticket counter and say “One for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” without stuttering deserves a generous discount on their ticket price.