The best thing about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is that it doesn't live down to its title. It is merely mediocre, which when it comes to shelling out today's ticket prices is just as bad.
Having little to do with Judith Viorst's illustrated children's book, the movie is barely longer than its title, 81 minutes including end credits, so we can't even say viewers get their money's worth in volume. The first half is nothing but silly setups for a stretch run that admittedly has its moments of wacky pandemonium, just not enough.
Any resemblance between the frantic nature of Miguel Arteta's movie and Viorst's book is accidental. There's an Alexander, of course, played by nondescript Ed Oxenbould, but a movie about his simple, believable frustrations as described in the book won't do. There must be a mystical twist, vomiting, extensive property damage, hopping hormones and a baby tinkling like a sprinkler. There must be enhanced roles for teenagers and celebrity stars for wider demographic appeal. A unique book must be transformed into a movie you've seen before.
In this version, Alexander is dreading his 12th birthday party because a more popular kid is having his celebration the same day, and much cooler. On the same day, Alexander's older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is going to prom, if he can keep his self-centered girlfriend (Bella Thorne) interested in him, and that means passing his driver's license exam. Sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) is starring in a school production of Peter Pan.
Even the adults are preoccupied. Mom (Jennifer Garner) is a publishing company publicist with a new children's book hitting shelves and a shrewish boss (Megan Mullally). Dad (Steve Carell) is an unemployed Mr. Mom doing baby yoga and making frittatas, facing a job interview with a video game manufacturer.
Alexander consoles himself with a midnight sundae, a birthday candle and a wish that everyone in his family could know what a lousy day feels like. Voila! Everyone wakes up late for appointments, or with a prom-spoiling zit, or a head cold, leading to a cough medicine overdose and various calamities. Carell does fine with the goofy dad routine, while Garner runs through mom expressions I'm sure Affleck and the kids see all the time.
I was honestly shocked to see Arteta's directing credit, after a career of edgy indie works (Star Maps, Chuck & Buck), cutting edge television (American Horror Story, Nurse Jackie) and one of the wisest adult comedies in recent years (Cedar Rapids). This is what selling out looks like. It isn't flattering.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Director: Miguel Arteta
Cast: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Megan Mullally, Sidney Fullmer
Screenplay: Ron Lieber, based on the book by Judith Viorst
Rating: PG; rude humor, reckless behavior
Running time: 81 min.