Whatever else children take from Judith Viorst’s delightful “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day,” the sly subtext this picture-heavy book is how exhausting and sometimes misguided the optimism of the eternally optimistic can be.
Parents who smile all the time, who make light of the weight of the world kids carry around sometimes? Annoying, especially to those kids.
That’s what the film version kicks around the block, and rather amusingly. Life is going to trip you up. A lot. Smiling about everything may help. But getting up after every knock-down is the only sure cure.
Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is the wimpy kid here, whose “Very Bad Day” begins with gum in his hair.
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“An epic disaster?” To his 12-year-old mind, maybe. And the tumbling dominoes of disarray around him, his baby brother, would-be-actress sister (Kerris Dorsey) and prom king brother (Dylan Minnette) only add to that sense. To him.
But Mom (Jennifer Garner) has the stress of all these kids and a book marketing job where she’s expected to dazzle 24/7. Dad (Steve Carell) has been out of work for ages and has an important job interview with a video game company where everybody is half his age. Baby spit-up on his shirt is the least of his problems. Because this day is about to go straight to heck.
“Daddy wishes he could swear right now!”
Alexander may worry about the birthday party nobody will come to, but the brother is about to lose a prom date (Bella Thorne), the sister frets about being too sick for her opening night as “Peter Pan” (Burn Gorman is well-cast as the snooty teacher/director), and the parents’ days devolve into chaos quicker than you can say “Dick Van Dyke.” He’s the celebrity reader brought in for a botched book launch. Yeah, Disney pulled out all the stops here.
It’s just competent, light entertainment, no more ambitious than that. But the stuff that’s not in Viorst’s slim book for children is what gooses this kids comedy, the plot points and grown-up concerns handled with comic flair by Garner and Carell, both of whom come right up to the brink of melting down – but don’t. This is why you hire movie stars, folks. Carell wears the mayhem with a long-suffering grin that might be masking a grimace.
“You’ve got to have the bad days so that you love the good days even more.”
And it’s good to know that even “perfect” families can lose their optimism, briefly, when a day turn as terrible, horrible, no good and very bad as Alexander’s does.
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD DAY
* * 1/2
Cast: Ed Oxenbould, Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne
Director: Miguel Arteta
Rated PG (rude humor including some reckless behavior and language)