Director: Miguel Arteta
Actors: Jennifer Garner, Steve Carell, Bella Thorne, Kerris Dorsey, Ed Oxenbould
Writer: Rob Lieber (screenplay), Judith Viorst (book)
Runtime: 81 min
The target audience of a family film extends far beyond the child. Kids cannot go to the theatre alone, so films geared towards children must hold appeal for the accompanying adults as well. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014), based on the beloved 1972 picture book by Judith Viorst, is a highly enjoyable family film that does not stoop to using crude humour to entertain its chaperoning audience or painful physical comedy to entertain the youngsters, as do some works in this genre. Instead, the film relies on a warm and fun tone and a new, positive message to stand out and provide a rewarding film going experience for all.
Eleven-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) may have just had the worst day of his life. After waking up with gum in his hair, Alexander finds out that the most popular boy in school has scheduled his birthday party for the same day as his, lights his crush’s lab notes on fire, and doesn’t even get assigned Australia as his project topic. To make matters worse, every member of Alexander’s family, including his parents (Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner), is an eternal optimist who seems to have one great day after another. When Alexander accidentally makes a birthday wish with the hope that they could understand his point of view, he believes that he has doomed his household to the worst day of their lives. Now, this family must come together against all odds in order to pull together and get through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
For a film about a bad day, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day remains upbeat and fun throughout. A bouncy score and bright actors keep the mood light, even as things aren’t going everybody’s way. Young Oxenbould presents a likeable Alexander, refusing to become whiney or annoying, and both Carell and Garner seem like genuine parents with realistic challenges and struggles. The film is full of humour that both children and adults will be able to appreciate, although perhaps on different levels – while kids may laugh at the sight of Carell doing mommy yoga with his infant son, adults will snicker at the instructor’s ridiculous commentary.
The first film that I saw in a movie theatre was Seabiscuit in 2003. When I asked my parents why we did not go to movies before then, their answer was simple: they did not want to sit through poorly made and painfully asinine children’s films, so they waited until I was at an age where we could all enjoy the cinema together. I believe that films such as this one effectively bridge the gap between child and adult interest, and could serve as a solid introduction to the world of the movie theatre for families such as mine. In addition, the film boasts a message about the importance of family and positive attitude, showing that although things may not always go one’s way, it is always possible to get through these trials with the help of those one loves.
The challenge of holding appeal for both children and adults is considerable, and many films attempt to meet it with humour too crude for children to understand and action too over-the-top for adults to care about. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is an exception, presenting its simple story tastefully and in a manner that many will enjoy. The modest picture book that is the film’s source material has been substantially augmented and greatly modernized in its translation to film, yet the charm and heart of the original remains.