Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Posted on October 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm
We’ve all had them. Some days, nothing goes right. The classic children’s book from Judith Viorst is about a little boy who wakes up with gum in his hair to a day that includes a dentist appointment, kissing on television, and losing his favorite marble down the bathtub drain has inspired a sweet and gently wacky comedy about an entire family having terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, all at the same time.
In this version, Alexander is about to turn 12, and, as I am pretty sure everyone will agree, that is the age when the most excruciating bad days happen.
In a nod to the original, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) wakes up on his last day of being eleven with gum in his hair. He trips over the sprinkler in front of the girl he likes Becky (Sidney Fullmer), and later sets her lab notes on fire in science class. It looks like no one will be going to his birthday party because the most popular boy in his class is having a party the same night — with a trampoline and frozen yoghurt cart. To make things worse, everyone else in his family seems to be having nothing but wonderful, beautiful, all-good, very-great days. His mother (Jennifer Garner) is about to get a promotion at the book publishing company for her good work on a book for toddlers about potty training. His father (Steve Carell), a stay-at-home dad since losing his job as an aerospace engineer, has a promising job interview.
His brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette), is about to get his driver’s license and take his dream girl to the prom. “Hashtag blessed,” he smiles, telling the family there’s a rumor that he and his girlfriend will be crowned Prom Duke and Duchess. And Alexander’s sister Emily (the terrific Kerris Dorsey of “Ray Donovan” and “Moneyball”) is starring as Peter Pan in the 8th grade play (in a movie that is both cheeky and charming, the song she sings in the play is not from the stage version that starred Mary Martin but from the Disney animated version, which definitely deserves a family viewing — with one caution for some insensitive racial and gender humor). Alexander also has a baby brother who gets a lot of attention just by being adorable. Everyone’s happiness just makes Alexander feel more isolated and miserable.
That night, Alexander makes himself a birthday sundae at midnight and as he blows out a candle, he can’t help wishing that everyone in the family would know what it was like to have a terrible, horrible, etc. etc. day. And the next day, everything goes wrong for everyone. Catastrophically wrong. Cataclysmically wrong. Monumentally wrong. And, yes, hilariously wrong. Don’t think too hard. This day would have to be about 72 hours long, and there’s no way some of these disasters could be fixed so easily. Just go with the goofy fun. There’s a lot of silliness and slapstick, and some gross-out bodily function humor, but the kids in the audience roared with laughter and both kids and adults loved the way the family stayed — most of the time — optimistic and warmly supportive of each other. There are delightful appearances by Dick van Dyke as himself and Jennifer Coolidge as the driver’s license examiner who shares Anthony’s terrible, horrible test drive. I especially got a kick out of the way the movie pays tribute to the book version of Alexander’s wish to be far away from his terrible, horrible, etc. by going to Australia. (In a coincidence, the real-life actor who plays Alexander is in fact Australian, though his American accent is impeccable.)
It does not have the gentle lyricism of the classic book, but it is a warm-hearted story that is less about bad days than it is about good families.
Parents should know that this film includes some bodily function humor and schoolyard language, comic peril and violence (no one hurt), accidental ingestion of too much cough syrup with attendant consequences, family chaos
Family discussion: Which family member had the worst day? What was your worst day and why? What’s the best thing to do on a bad day?
If you like this, try; the book by Judith Viorst and the two short DVD versions, and all three versions of “Freaky Friday”