Ever have the feeling that when your day starts off on the wrong foot, it’s going to be one stumble after the next, until you can go to bed and get a fresh start the following morning?
That’s what happens to 11-year-old Alexander, a doom-and-gloom youngster who tries to warn his family that anything they attempt is bound to turn out badly—all because his own day begins with a wad of gum stuck in his hair and then slides quickly into a vat of bubbling disasters, both small and large. What’s worse, it’s the day before his 12th birthday.
The rule of thumb for most movies told from the point of view of a child is that they tend to appeal to audiences who are the same age or younger than the star. That would make “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” aimed at elementary schoolers. But because Walt Disney Studios tried to broaden the appeal by bringing in more extreme situations and having the bad luck extend to every single family member, my guess is that it may also appeal to families with pre-teen children. It features a “Date Night” chain of events and a motor vehicle that ultimately, as with the family from “Little Miss Sunshine,” brings them closer together.
“Alexander” has the same tone and voiceover vibe as the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies, only my family enjoyed it more and it’s less faithful to the children’s book that inspired it. Loosely based on the 1972 award-winning book by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz, it stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as the parents, Ed Oxenbould as Alexander, Dylan Minnette as his older brother Anthony, and Kerris Dorsey as Emily, his older sister. There’s a baby, too, but the focus is on the family members with things on the line.
Everyone has something big going on in their lives. Emily is walking around the house warbling her solo from “Peter Pan,” the school play in which she has the starring role and which opens the next day. Anthony is gearing up to take his driver’s test so he can drive his high maintenance girlfriend (Bella Thorne) to the prom. Mom is a higher-up at a publishing company who is in charge of a new children’s book that’s launching that day, and Dad, an out-of-work aeronautics engineer, finally lands a job interview . . . with a video game company.
And, of course, what can go wrong DOES go wrong, in utterly predictable but spectacular film comedy fashion.
It’s amusing to see Dick Van Dyke again in a cameo role as a celebrity reading aloud from a children’s book that has an unfortunate recurring typo in it, and equally fun to watch Carell play an at-home dad who tries to connect with a group of young nerdster (that’s a cross between a hipster and a nerd) video gamers. Although there are funnier driving test sequences—the one from “The Naked Gun” comes to mind—that bit also provides a few laughs.
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” has, in addition to the longest title in recent memory, one of the shortest runtimes, coming in at just 81 minutes—another sign that it’s geared for the short-attention-span crowd. But what it does, it does well.
“Alexander” is presented in 2.39:1 widescreen, and the colors and detail have a nice “pop” to them. There’s only a slight layer of filmic grain, and visually this film is what we’ve come to expect from Disney: slick-looking and with an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that’s flawless.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with additional options in Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and English Descriptive 2.0 Stereo. Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish. The soundtrack has a nice heft to it, filling the room so much during hazard sequences that I looked at the box to see if it was a 7.1 track.
It’s good to see an author segment here. Judith Viorst and her son, the “real Alexander,” talk about the genesis of the book and its reception. There’s also a short bonus feature on the Australian Outback party that Alexander’s parents throw, complete with animal wranglers talking about their charges. Rouding out the bonus features is an average blooper reel and a music video (“Hurricane”) by The Vamps.
Ultimately, there are just enough laughs in this PG-rated comedy to entertain families with children age 12 and under. My own teens liked the scenes and plot but found the main character annoying. I suspect that reaction will be typical of older children, who will find the voiceover narration and the POV pitched “beneath them.” Still, it’s an entertaining family comedy, and how many PG comedies are there these days?