Alexander is far less memorable than its source material, but it ultimately proves to be an affable (and refreshingly brisk) piece of family-friendly entertainment.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day follows Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) on the day before his twelfth birthday, which amounts to little more than a string of embarrassments, frustrating developments, and otherwise quite unpleasant incidents for young Alexander. However, when the rest of his family - who all have something very important to do on Alexander's birthday - hear about his day, they simply encourage him to keep his head up and remain positive.
Alexander then makes a birthday wish for the rest of his family to better understand what it's like to have a terrible day like his... and is shocked when his wish seemingly comes true, as his dad (Steve Carell), mom (Jennifer Garner), older brother (Dylan Minnette), and older sister (Kerris Dorsey) find that the universe seems to be against them as well. Can the Coopers pull together as a family and make it through this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in one piece?
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, Cedar Rapids), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a feature-length film adaptation of the celebrated 1972 short children's book written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz, with an adapted screen story and screenplay written by Rob Lieber (his first produced script). Alexander is far less memorable than its source material, but it ultimately proves to be an affable (and refreshingly brisk) piece of family-friendly entertainment.
In terms of direction, Alexander isn't anything that impressive, though Arteta deserves credit for being able to stage so many comedy sequences as he does given the movie's short running time (well under 90 minutes, even with end credits). The film's multiple sight gags and physical comedy sequences aren't crafted with much style or creativity, but at the same time Arteta's "no muss, no fuss" approach allows the film to maintain a screwball comedy level of frantic energy throughout. Ultimately, Alexander throws so much kid-friendly slapstick comedy (and the occasional humorous reference for adults) at the wall that it turns out to be okay that maybe only half of the jokes actually stick.
Lieber's Alexander script maintains the simple, but nonetheless important life lessons that are provided by Viorst's source material, offering youngsters a way to understand the reality of life's ups and downs. The film version doesn't offer much more insight on those issues than Viorst's book does, but Lieber's expanded screen story does find a basic, yet all the same effective, way to incorporate the members of Alexander's family into the story. Their resulting characters arcs prove to be pretty conventional, which is largely why Alexander is much better at being zany than poignant.
Young Ed Oxenbould (Puberty Blues) is perfectly likable as Alexander, though much the movie that he's starring in, he's best at being hapless and enduring comical mishaps; when it comes to the serious moments, Oxebould isn't able to bring much depth to his character beyond what's written in the script. It's Steve Carell who, out of the main cast, gets the most meaningful storyline as Alexander's dad Ben - a relentless optimist who struggles to accept that he can't always protect his love ones from having a rough time in life - and once again, Carell proves that he can handle broad comedy and heartfelt drama equally well.
The other members of Alexander's primary cast play recognizable archetypes - the mom with a successful career (Jennifer Garner), the Type-A sister (Kerris Dorsey), and the over-confident brother (Dylan Minnette), respectively - and though their subplots pan out exactly as you probably expect, every cast member handles their role well and makes the journey enjoyable, if predictable. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast is composed of fan-favorite TV/film actors - Megan Mullally (Parks and Recreation), Donald Glover (Community), and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) among them - who make brief, but generally amusing appearances as various people who make the Coopers' horrible day either better or worse.
Overall, as far as (mostly) all-ages appropriate entertainment goes, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a perfectly acceptable middle of the road offering - no more, but no less. It's not something you need to race out to a theater to check out ASAP, but it could be worth a future rental (when you need something safe for the kids to watch at home).
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 81 minutes long and is Rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language.