'Alexander' and the not terrible, pretty good movie adaptation

Disney

By Natalie Gadbois, Senior Film Editor
Published October 14, 2014

The tone of bad days changes as you age. What once was catastrophic — someone told your crush you liked him, you got to school late, Abby didn’t invite you to her birthday party — becomes the mundane, little jabs in a day usually filled with bigger problems — your rent was due yesterday, you have a performance evaluation with your boss, “The Good Wife” aired an hour late because of football. It’s easy to forget that a bad day is a bad day, no matter how big or small the problems seem. The joyful but flighty “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” follows two very bad days in the life on one particularly good family — with a lot of unnecessary schmaltz, we are shown how these terrible, horrible moments can tie a family together.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


B-
Rave and Quality 16
Walt Disney Pictures

Based on the bestselling children’s book by Judith Viorst, “Alexander” charts two days in the life of the Coopers, an infuriatingly cheerful suburban postcard family — the first in which 12-year-old Alexander (played with lispy gravitas by Ed Oxenbould) undergoes a series of 12-year-old misfortunes, and the second in which everything bad happens to everyone else. In classic Disney-family-film fashion, the abrupt change is a result of Alexander’s errant midnight birthday wish (complete with a requisite half-moon and eerie howl) that for once someone else understands what it’s like to be him — that his perfect family has a bad day for once in their lives.

Steve Carell (“Despicable Me 2”) and Jennifer Garner (“Men, Women & Children”) carry the film as Alexander’s consistently caring, supportive, goofy, movie-perfect parents, juggling four kids and work (Garner) and being unemployed with aplomb (Carell). The dynamics of the Coopers are concurrently sickly sweet and endearing — while the script is littered with nausea-inducing morality checkmarks, as their bad day progresses, it’s easy to spot your own family in this lovingly frazzled one.

Despite the strong cast, “Alexander” becomes bogged down in the slapstick qualities of a day gone wrong. Cue the projectile vomit, the poop jokes, the crashes and Bunsen burner fires and pee-induced slips of a film invested more in its actors than the quality of its script. The Coopers’ relatability puts the film in an unusual predicament – because we actually kind of like them, we commiserate with their misfortunes, cringing when we should be laughing. It’s an unfortunate quandary – why watch a movie about someone else’s bad day when you would never want to experience that day yourself?

But at its heart, “Alexander” is just a kids movie — almost refreshingly simple in the sea of overly self-aware, adult-referential children’s movies of late. The silly hijinks are amusing and the characters certainly recognizable — Carell as the goofy dad you love to be embarrassed by, Garner the generous mom who always knows what to say. Though the morals are heavy-handed, they are delivered earnestly — in particular by Oxenbould, who already demonstrates both comedic and dramatic range. He manages to give lines like this, without seeming disingenuous: “Gotta have the bad days, so you can love the good days even more.” Groan-inducing, but it’s not wrong — and not a bad lesson to be teaching kids.

The manic positivity that rings throughout “Alexander” may not always be enjoyable, but at its core it’s infectious. It’s not a film that leaves you questioning the meaning of life, but, frankly, there already are too many of those. It’s a film to bring a moody 12-year-old to, and watch him giggle at Steve Carell in a pirate costume and forget his own bad days for a few hours. Sometimes movies can be as simple as that.