Friday, October 24, 2014

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


Everyone in the family seems to breeze through life except for Alexander (Ed Oxenbould). According to the third of four Cooper children, every day is a bad day. Whether it’s waking up with gum in his hair or accidentally setting a girl’s lab book on fire, there’s always something that goes wrong for him. It all seems even more unfair because his parents and siblings, armed with positive attitudes, can’t relate in ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY.

To make matters worse, it appears that fate is getting a head start on ruining Alexander’s twelfth birthday. The day before his party he learns that his modest celebration will be competing with a more popular boy’s blowout even though his classmate’s actual birthday isn’t for another week. Alexander’s big day also falls on an eventful one for the rest of his family. It’s opening night for his older sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who’s starring in the school’s production of PETER PAN. Older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) has prom and his driver’s test. His dad Ben (Steve Carell) is interviewing with a video game firm, and his mom Kelly (Jennifer Garner) is overseeing a book launch that could lead to a big promotion. Baby brother Trevor (Elise Vargas) doesn’t have anything on the calendar to steal Alexander’s thunder, but he does co-opt more of their parents’ attention.

For his birthday Alexander wishes that his family could understand what kind of days he has. The wish isn’t intended to wreck an important day for everyone else, but when his teflon family experiences a series of comedic disasters, Alexander believes he’s somehow responsible.

ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY serves as Disney’s nicer alternative to the crass DIARY OF A WIMPY KID films. Everyone tends to be pretty pleasant in his immediate circle, and the indignities that exasperate Alexander are mostly small in nature. The film, adapted from Judith Viorst’s children’s book, stresses that Alexander’s problem stems from his perspective rather than being burdened like a pre-teenage Job. While being surrounded by abundant optimism can be wearisome when going through a rough time, Alexander overlooks the stresses the rest of the family is under but pushes through. Making the best of days or situations is a worthy lesson to convey to kids--or adults, for that matter.

Director Miguel Arteta puts the Coopers through the paces of broad family comedy with routine payoffs. At best the labored scenarios are lightly amusing, with Carell and Garner giving enthusiastic performances to compensate for the run-of-the-mill material. At worst the recurring gags fall flat because of how obvious they are from their set-ups. For all of the effort invested in physical comedy, a running joke about a typo discovered at the last minute stands out as the best ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY has to offer.

The film as a whole seems like it posts low stakes and needs to maintain the status quo. Bravo to the Coopers for keeping cool heads under mildly trying times, but such rationality under pressure does not create an optimal environment for humor.

Grade: C

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