We’ve all had bad days, and on the eve of Alexander’s twelfth birthday he has had one of the worst days ever. To make it hurt just that little bit more, it seems his entire family is riding a wave of positivity and enjoying all the good things in their lives and unaware of how crappy a day he’s had. But all that’s about to change with one birthday wish.
Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is your fairly average 12 year old kid, he just wants to get through a school day without making a dork of himself in front of his crush and for his friends to come to his birthday party. But on this particular day he wakes up with gum in his hair, accidentally sets his crushes notebook on fire, finds out that none of his friends are coming to his birthday party, and he didn’t get assigned Australia as the country to research on his school project even though he’s absolutely crazy about Australia. In short it’s a bummer of a day. But when nobody in his family seems to notice how bad a day he has had, one tiny little birthday wish turns the whole family’s world upside down for the next 24 hours. The next morning his mum Kelly (Jennifer Garner) nearly ruins her career, his dad Ben (Steve Carell) has one of the most awkward job interviews ever, his brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is having relationship issues with his girlfriend, his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) catches a cold just as she’s supposed to perform the lead in her Peter Pan play, and his baby brother ends up chewing on a permanent green marker with his face looking like a half-Hulk.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is adapted from the Judith Viorst book, and director Miguel Arteta and scriptwriter Rob Lieber have not diverted too much away from the source material. As with most live action comedies there’s a fair share of slapstick and physical laughs but there’s also a touch of heightened realism bordering on just shy of fantasy. All of the action and the chaos comes at a rapid-fire pace and takes up the lions share of the film screen time. Most of what we see is pretty embarassing, or cringe-inducing and really if it didn’t all happen at once to every individual member on that one day, you could potentially just boil it down to bad luck. Another take you could spin on it is that it’s a sly nod towards parents and having to deal with kids and their juvenile whining about things that really at the end of the day are trivial in the grand scheme of things.
But the heart and warmth to this film is the family element. At the beginning Alexander is convinced that his family don’t really pay attention to him or understand his woes. At first it might seem that way, and their chaotic “very bad day” may help them to feel a little of what he’s feeling. But what shines is their ability to band and bond together over this collective awfulness. Even when you think things can’t get worse, they still manage to stick together and try to ride it out. It’s refreshing to see a functional family onscreen for a change.
Young Aussie actor Ed Oxenbould (Puberty Blues, Paper Planes) does a great job of shouldering the majority of this film. He slips between earnest, awkward, outraged and exhausted as we transition through the movie. It’s not hard to imagine that if you were having a day as bad as his that you’d be emotionally charged by it too. Steve Carell manages to steal the latter half of the film though, and really we were all kinda expecting him too at some point anyway. Jennifer Garner injects some of her simultaneous stern but clumsy persona but she seems to get less laugh-out-loud moments than Carell. There’s some great little cameo moments too including Dick Van Dyke and Donald Glover and Jennifer Coolidge.
The main message you get from this film once you reach the end though, is a truth that really we all know but just sometimes need to be reminded of. Everybody has bad days, but those bad days pass eventually and it’s the ones who love you that support you through those tough times that matter.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 81 minutes
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray through Disney Pictures Australia