You would be hard pressed to find anybody born after the 70s that hasn’t read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, so it’s no surprise that Disney wanted to make a movie out of this. Sadly, the book’s message seems to have partially been lost in adaptation and robbed of any impact. It’s primary function is to keep the kids busy for an hour and a half while the parents do something else. There’s nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t usually make for memorable cinema.
12 year old Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is a self-professed “expert of bad days” and this day doesn’t appear to be any different. He wakes up with gum in his hair, slips on his skateboard and sets his chemistry lab on fire at school. To makes matters worse he finds out that nobody (including his so-called best friend) will be attending his birthday party the next day because a rich, popular kid will also be having his birthday party on the same day. He tries to tell his family about what a bad day he had but his parents (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner) are too overworked and his older siblings (Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey) are too self-absorbed with their own lives to care that much. Fed up with their lack of sympathy, Alex wishes that his family could know what it’s like to have a bad day. Alexander quickly gets his wish as he wakes up the next day to find his family in complete chaos.
The film as a whole is nothing special and while some details of the book are used here (gum in the hair, slipping on the skateboard, Alex’s weird obsession with Australia), there’s not much resemblance to the source material. The most obvious difference is that Alex isn’t even the one having the bad day here. As a matter of fact the day works out pretty well for him since the rich kid has to cancel his party when he comes down with the chicken pox. His family goes through one disaster after another but nothing bad really happens to Alex. As a result, it makes him a supporting character and occasional fly on the wall in his own movie.
I will give some credit where it’s due however and say that Steve Carell was actually pretty good here. As the father, he does everything he can to keep his family’s spirits up even while dealing with his own series of mishaps. I also got the feeling he was also trying to make the film a little more enjoyable for the adults that would undoubtedly be watching the movie with their kids (something I was very grateful for).
This movie adaptation is a lot like the Dr. Suess movies. The story is changed to the point of being almost unrecognizable, the studios use them to make a quick buck and they are quickly forgotten once they’ve been released (though to be fair this isn’t nearly as bad as the Dr. Suess movies). There’s nothing about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day that’s especially terrible but there’s nothing to distinguish it either. The book has held up pretty well in the 40+ years since since it’s publication but the movie is unlikely to do the same.
The special features don’t give us much of anything worth noting. The interviews with the book’s author Judith Viorst and her adult son Alexander (the book’s inspiration) are kind of interesting but that’s about it. After that, there’s some behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew, many of whom like talking about how the main character who is obsessed with Australia is played by an Australian kid. There’s also a fairly standard blooper reel and a music video from a boy band called The Vamps (incidentally the song itself is one of the most generic pieces of music I’ve ever heard).