Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Ron Lieber (debut)
Stretching short books meant for children to feature-length films has always been an exercise in deciding what would make for adequate filler between hitting the beats of the original short story. Few have pulled it off successfully; think 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a movie over-stuffed with meaningless fluff that ends up contradicting the original story’s anti-consumerist message. That film is rendered into some strange monster concocted just to sell cotton candy pancakes and leave everyone confused.
The filmmakers behind the new film version of author Judith Viorst’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” have the same hurdle to overcome—the book is only 32 pages long—but, unlike their peers, they mostly pull it off. Refocusing the story (in the book we’re centered solely on Alexander) to feature the rest of his family (namely parents Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) makes this kids’ movie more enjoyable for adults in the crowd than most movies featuring a computer-generated kangaroo kicking a man in the face typically do.
On the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day of his life. He wakes up with gum in his hair, spills a bowl of cereal, and opens up his computer to find a more-popular classmate is having his birthday party the same night as his, assuring that no one will be there, including Alexander’s best friend and the girl he has a crush on. When the rest of his family–wrapped up in their own concerns like a job interview, a book release, a part in a school play, and prom with their shallow, bitchy girlfriend—seem to offer Alexander no sympathy, he makes a birthday wish that they all know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Needless to say, the wish comes true, and the next day finds the family suffering calamities like pimples, being set on fire, and a misprint in a book that leads to national treasure Dick Van Dyke telling a group of children to take a dump in the swimming pool.
With fun performances from Carell and Garner, “Alexander” manages to avoid the usual pitfalls these movies aimed at 10-year-old boys seem to suffer from: being unwatchable to anyone over 10. Strangely, though, Alexander is basically a supporting character in his own movie, watching as the chaos unfolds around him. While usually films aimed at kids overstay their welcome, this one feels oddly truncated. At barely an hour and 15 minutes long, the movie doesn’t give the story enough room to breathe at times, wrapping up in a party that somehow comes together with little effort from the frazzled family. Yeah, like I said, there’s a damn CGI kangaroo that lays out Carell in the third act, but don’t hold that against “Alexander.”