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"ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY"
(2014) (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A suburban family consisting of a mom, a dad, and four kids collectively have a very bad day that brings them all together.
PLOT:
Alexander Cooper (ED OXENBOULD) is having a very bad day. His birthday falls on the same day as the most popular kid in middle school, and everyone wants to go to his party. He tries to impress the cute girl in his carpool and ends up setting fire to her notebook and the school's chemistry lab. At the same time, his entire family seems to be having success on all levels.

Alexander's dad, Ben (STEVE CARELL), has been out of work for seven months but has managed to score an interview with an up-and-coming videogame developer. His mom, Kelly (JENNIFER GARNER), is on the verge of a major promotion at the publishing company she works at. His older brother, Anthony (DYLAN MINNETTE), is about to get his driver's license and take Celia (BELLA THORNE), the prettiest girl in school, to the prom. His older sister, Emily (KERRIS DORSEY), is the star of the middle school's version of "Peter Pan." And his baby brother, Trevor (ELISE and ZOEY VARGAS), is cute and cuddly and is getting all of the attention.

Feeling down, Alexander lights a candle on a cupcake at midnight on his birthday and makes a wish that everyone could have the kind of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day he has just had. The next morning, no one's alarm goes off; Emily wakes up with a terrible cold; Ben learns he is twice the age of anyone at the videogame company and he has to take Trevor to his interview, and the baby manages to get green magic marker all over his face; Kelly has failed to spot a big typo in the children's book her company is launching; and Anthony not only fails his driving test, he completely thrashes the family minivan. And that's just the start...

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
The new "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Title ... er, Day" is a fun, heartfelt family comedy that aspires to be a sort of "Little Miss Sunshine" for tweens and their moms and dads. It has a little bit of edge to it, which I appreciated. But the best thing the movie has going for it is the generally positive attitude its main characters exhibit even when faced with very tense circumstances. Dysfunctional family comedies are a dime a dozen What's more daring in this cynical and polarizing day and age is to craft a functional family film in which the parents are not complete buffoons, the kids don't know everything, and they all don't openly despise each other as life throws them a series of curveballs and challenges.

Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner star as Ben and Kelly Cooper, a suburban L.A. husband and wife raising four kids. Ben is an aerospace engineer who has been out of work for seven months and become the kids' primary caregiver. Kelly is a rising executive at a publishing company and has transitioned into the family's primary bread-winner. The film is told from the perspective of the title character (Ed Oxenbould), though, a middle-school wimpy kid who doesn't quite keep a diary, but strings together a self-aware and often witty narration to move the film along.

Alexander is turning 12, and the day before his birthday is an awful one. He gets chewing gum in his hair, he nearly burns down the school trying to impress a girl, and the most popular kid in school is having a party on the same night his birthday falls. At one minute after midnight, he lights a candle on a cupcake and wishes his whole too-perfect family could have as bad a day as he just had. The next morning, no one's alarm goes off, his mom is late for a very important work presentation; his dad has to take his baby brother on a job interview; his older brother Anthony has a massive pimple on his forehead on the eve of his prom; and his sister, Emily, suddenly has a cold on the night she is to star in her school's production of "Peter Pan."

Director Miguel Arteta films controlled chaos very well. He achieves a nice balance here between character and hijinks, but always puts the likability of his cast first. As much as you want to see things continue to go comically wrong for the Coopers, you also don't want anything really bad to happen to them. It's a very light comedy to be sure. But every once in a while, an edgy bit rises this film above Nickelodeon and Disney Channel fare such as when Kelly accidentally sees her oldest son, Anthony, naked as he's about to get into a shower. The teenager continues to lament about it on the drive to school until an exasperated Kelly turns to her whole family and rages, "It's not the first time I've seen your penis! In fact, I've seen every penis in this car!"

On the negative side, I really could have sat for a few more complications to befall the Coopers during their ghastly, atrocious, truly horrendous day. It's great that they all rise up to help and support each other when Anthony thrashes the family minivan or Dad sets himself on fire at a Japanese restaurant. But there were opportunities to take the comedy even further and put these people under even more pressure to get to the positive end result. None of the bad things that befall the Coopers in this flick will be especially memorable a week or two from now.

But what I will remember, especially as a parent, are the laughs and the smiles of the target audience while watching this film and then streaming out of the theater afterwards. This is based on a kids' book that has been greatly expanded. For the most part, the changes work even though little Alexander does get lost in the mix somewhat the longer the film goes on. Mostly, as a reviewer, I'm just glad the movie wasn't terrible, horrible or very bad. I liked it a lot and give it a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 8, 2014 / Posted October 10, 2014


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