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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day movie review: not terrible

by MaryAnn Johanson

Alexander the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day yellow light

It’s strictly for kids, this very silly, mostly sweet tale of middle-school angst, with a few nonconformist hand grenades tossed in for good measure.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is where we are with kids’ movies, in a place where a flick that isn’t nonstop kicks to the crotch and “jokes” about poop seems like a revelation, and hence something to celebrate. If that’s the sitch, fine. I hate that we’ve lowered the bar so far, but we have, and this is where we are. And despite my current abject pessimism about Hollywood, I still love movies — or the idea of movies, anyway — and still feel that kids should be exposed to them and will hopefully come to love them, too.

So if you feel the same and want to take some kids to the movies to get them hooked, this one probably won’t make you want to kill yourself while it’s in progress. I mean, Steve Carell is in this, people. (YMMV. But c’mon, who doesn’t love Steve Carell?)

I didn’t hate Alexander and the Really-Too-Long Title for Google SEO Purposes. I might have gotten a bigger kick out of it if I had been accompanied by a small child I cared about who was giggling deliriously along with its grade-school antics, but I took what secondhand pleasure I could from the small children unknown to me elsewhere in the theater doing the same. There’s not much here for adults to actively enjoy — not in the way that so many animated action fantasy flicks have catered as much to the grownup-geek crowd as they do to the tykes. But at least it’s a tad more realistic than How to Train Your Frozen Videogame Character. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with out-and-out fantasy — I love those movies — but there’s also a value in kids seeing how movies can relate to your real life.

Here we have Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) who, on the day before his 12th birthday, has the worst possible day ever for an upper-middle-class white boy in Southern California. He accidentally burns the science-lab notebook of pretty Becky (Sidney Fullmer), whom he’s got a crush on. He gets teased in a way that is “gross and sexist” (sez Becky, not that that will stop the movie from indulging in it anyway *sigh*) in front of the whole middle school. He learns of a birthday party that will be competing with his, thrown by a kid who has a rep for hosting awesome parties (for middle-school values of awesome). And this on a day when the entire rest of his family — publishing exec Mom (Jennifer Garner: Dallas Buyers Club, The Odd Life of Timothy Green), out-of-work rocket scientist Dad (Carell: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Despicable Me 2), big brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette: Labor Day, Prisoners), big sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey: Moneyball, Just Like Heaven), and even infant newbie intruder Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas: Neighbors) — have had a great day.

And so Alexander, in a sort of luck-reversal spin on Freaky Friday, makes a wish that his fellow family members will experience a terrible day so that they will know the nightmare that his life is. And the universe, apparently, complies. On a Friday, no less. Things go so wrong for everyone — except, notably, Alexander — that Emily deems the day “cursed.”

Now, there is, during the course of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, a little bit of pee and a little bit of vomit, but not in a gratuitous way — in fact, the pee bit, at least, works in a way that adults will appreciate, in how an infant boy-child is basically little more than a tactical urine weapon. And the one poop joke works as a joke in the same way that that enormously popular picture book Go the Fuck to Sleep does… ie, by plugging in to parental exasperation. So maybe there is a little bit of something here for parents to appreciate. But mostly this is a very silly, mostly sweet tale of how Alexander comes to feel bad about cursing his family, with a few unexpected nonconformist hand grenades tossed in for good measure… like how Dad, while he is unemployed, is the primary caregiver of the baby.

That’s not the sort of thing we see in kiddie movies, so perhaps there is some hope for the genre when it gives up crotch-kicking humor.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
US/Canada release date: Oct 10 2014 | UK release date: Oct 10 2014

MPAA: rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, sex references)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Jurgan

    I only saw the previews, but something about them really annoyed me. What got to me was the bit where Alexander sagely explains to the family about the nature of life and how you have to take the good with the bad- “believe me, I would know.” It’s like, what can be so bad about this middle-class white boy’s life that he has unique insight into the nature of human suffering? Why are the parents unaware of this simple truism? And why does the movie suggest he has such a hard life when it seems his every need is provided for him? Because his parents ignore him at the dinner table? Sheesh, I’m getting North vibes out of this. I haven’t read the book in many years, but from what I recall, the message was more “everybody has bad days now and then, and it’s okay.” Which maybe is what they were going for, but it doesn’t make sense to me that the kid is teaching the lesson rather than learning it.

  • There really isn’t an overall sense in the film that it’s meant to be about all human suffering, or that it’s making grand pronouncements on anything beyond “Your family is probably cooler than [12-yar-old] you think they are, even if they annoy you sometimes.”

  • RogerBW

    I agree with every word of your first paragraph. This is the way it is, and we might as well make the most of it.

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