Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

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Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenwriter: Rob Lieber
Based on the children’s book of the same name by Judith Viorst
Cast: Ed Oxenbould, Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne & Megan Mullally
Runtime: 81 min // Certificate: PG


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, the latest offering from Disney’s “live-action comedies for all the family” collection, is such a sweet, harmless and inoffensive little film that a small part of me really wants to heap the most unfettered vitriol on it just for even daring to even exist. I mean seriously, how is a sociopath like me meant to keep up such an impenetrable façade of pessimism and cynicism when a film as innocuous as this can make me grin like a complete buffoon for just less than 90 minutes?

Alas, that’s exactly what happened, and so I must resort to a reluctant admission of defeat. Alexander… is good. At times, it’s actually very good. For what it is, and for the audience it’s aimed towards (children and their browbeaten parents), it’s close to genuine brilliance. If I were ten years younger, I’d have probably already seen it twice. Heck, I’m 23 and I’m considering going back for a rewatch, particularly if I have my own “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” at any point in the near future…

Based on the children’s book of the same name it tells the story of a young boy – Alex (Oxenbould; Paper Planes) – who feels like the unluckiest kid in the World. His family are always super optimistic, successful and full of life, while he blunders through each day, falling from one disaster to the next. In an attempt to get them to see things from his perspective for a change, Alex makes a midnight wish on his 12th birthday for them to know what it’s like to spend a day in his shoes, thus accidentally cursing the entire family.

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Alexander… works for one simple reason; it’s funny. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the sentimentalism is kept to a minimum and the “comedy of errors” concept is played to great effect, with the film slowly but surely descending into complete and utter anarchy. The performances range from passable to the genuinely hilarious, with Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) providing the most laughs as the frantic Mother, while the script, though often saccharine and a bit mushy, is full of some warm, kind-hearted gags. There’s no mean-spiritedness, no unnecessary vulgarity and, to top it all off, there’s even a cameo by a furious but self-deprecating Dick Van Dyke, which as far as I’m concerned is something that absolutely every film, irrespective of plot or genre, needs.

Alexander… is one of the better family films of recent years. It’s fun, sweet and beats along at a pretty rapid pace without outstaying its welcome or overstretching its central conceit. Will it be held up in years to come as a classic? No, probably not, but in a year when children have been subjected to such terrors as Postman Pat: The Movie and Escape from Planet Earth, Alexander… is a real breath of fresh air.