Film Review: ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

Classic kids' book makes for mediocre movie
October 9, 2014 Updated: October 10, 2014

That’s quite the title, eh? Guaranteed to jump into the American lexicon and pop back out next election: “Republican challenger has terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate,” and so on.

Based on a popular short book for kids, the movie’s basically a feature-length adaptation, with Alexander’s “no good, very bad day” padded out to include his entire family. Too bad the movie version’s not as memorable as the book and the title.

On a positive note, it’s the rare current kid movie made with real actors instead of animation. Unfortunately, it’s not remotely adult-funny. That’s OK. Parents suffer. It’s what they do. Go and suffer for the kids.

Titular Bad Day

On the day prior to his very bad day (which happens to be his 12th birthday), Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), a somewhat proactive (ahem—pushy) child who speaks with a pronounced lisp, discovers that the superrich kid in his grade is having a much cooler party than his own. Same night. Everbody’s gonna be there. His blonde heartthrob won’t respect him! He’ll be Alexander the loser for sure.

What else will happen on this day? His mother (Jennifer Garner) will supervise Dick Van Dyke reading a kids’ book, featuring the word “jump.” About all the places a kid could take a jump (like, in a lake). What could possibly go wrong with that, provided the printing press doesn’t misprint the letter “J”?

The always-positive dad (Steve Carell) loses his cool in
The always-positive dad (Steve Carell) loses his cool in “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” With Kerris Dorsey and Jennifer Garner. (Dale Robinette/Disney Enterprises)


Unemployed dad, a fommy (Steve Carell), has an important job interview with a video game company run by kids slightly older than his teenage son.

Oh, I’m sorry, you want to know what “fommy” means? “Father-mommy,” explains a cloying, steal-your-husband-type yoga chickie at dad Ben’s yoga-with-baby class.

Sis (Kerris Dorsey) has the lead in her grade school “Peter Pan” production, and older bro (Dylan Minnette) is supposed to get his driver’s license and drive his severely snotty girlfriend (Bella Thorne) to the prom.

And there you have the setup. What could go terribly, horribly wrong? You know. All of it. With lots of spills-on-the-floor and car-won’t-start yuks.

What are some examples of things that go wrong? Asteroid-size zit for the prom prince? Incipient flu for the leading actress? But the show must go on! It goes on, alright. A cough syrup swig-a-thon results in a preteen Peter Pan F.U.I. (flying under the influence). And there was much bashing into stuff.

Alexander suddenly realizes he’s cursed his whole family because he made a selfish plea to the powers that be, to spread his own bad day around. Whereupon he dejectedly says, “Just forget my party.” Aww.

Ed Oxenbould as Alexander in
Ed Oxenbould as Alexander in “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” (Dale Robinette/Disney Enterprises)


Well, of course that’s exactly what they all needed! Because now they’re a team! Good stuff happens: Older bro dumps his gorgeous mean-girl. Out of loyalty. To his family.

Sure, that’d happen—you’re 16, you take Megan Fox to the prom, she disses your family—you dump her? No you do not. You dump her tomorrow. But no. Before the prom.

So what do your kids get to learn about? That we have to have no-good, very bad days to appreciate the good days. Yay!

And there’s an Aussie petting zoo. And a team of Outback stripper dudes to make the audience mommies happy, until Steve Carell tells them to keep it PG.

Carell does his stock-in-trade, endlessly square but endlessly game suburban chinos-and-loafers dad named Ben Cooper. His talent of funny is too often undertapped. However, if he got even slightly funnier here, he’d upstage the kid, and that would only make Alexander’s terrible day more horrible.

Extreme farce is kept to a minimum, and all in all, the Coopers are probably the most supercalifragilistically upbeat and nondysfunctional family ever. Ever! That’s what Disney does.

If you take the kids, you’ll not only suffer from the lack of adult laughs, but also from knowing you’ll never be as good a fommy as Carell’s Ben Cooper. But maybe you want to try.


‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’
Director: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Kerris Dorsey, Dylan Minnette
Running time: 1 hr. 21 minutes
Release date: Oct. 10
Rated PG

2 stars out of 5

Three kid stars, one adult star.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch