Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Hope Madden
I recently attended the advance screening of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and I have to admit, my own day had been pretty craptastic. What I really wanted to do was drink to excess. But instead, I sat in the dark and watched as Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner parented four children through a crisis-riddled day.
Taken from Judith Viorst’s much beloved children’s book of the same name, the film follows Alexander on the day before and the day of his 12th birthday. At birthday-eve dinner, as Alexander recounts the woes of his miserable life – including accidentally setting his science class on fire while horrifying the girl of his dreams – each of his siblings and parents announces a wonderful life event that happened to coincide with Alexander’s misery.
So, at midnight, he makes himself a birthday Sunday and wishes his too-perfect family would have a bad day.
Well, he realizes the next day that he’s cursed each and every one of them.
And as obvious as the story is, it’s handled here with restraint and dignity.
Director Miguel Arteta – who directed one of my favorite little indies, Chuck and Buck – never panders or condescends. He has respect for his characters, his story, and his audience. It is amazing what a difference that makes in a family film.
Each character is drawn with some depth. Few actors are asked to mug for the camera. Each crisis is, of course, wildly implausible, but somehow this film and this cast pulls it off.
The cast itself helps. Carell and Garner never stoop. They are invested in these characters, and though both parents are too good to be true, they also both have dimension and faults.
As the titular Alexander, young, lisping Ed Oxenbould (Wow! That’s quite a moniker!) turns in an enjoyable performance as layered as the film could allow. He easily anchors the movie.
Plus, one outstanding cameo from the always brilliant Jennifer Coolidge.
Yes, things turn out OK. Great, in fact, and if you have a family that loves you, everything will be all right for you, too.
Beer is great, too, though. I’m not going to lie to you.