AlexandercoverGrade: B-/B
Entire family:  Yes
2014, 81 min., Color
Rated PG for rude humor, including some reckless behavior and language
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD Copy
Bonus features: C

Ever have the feeling that when your day starts off on the wrong foot, it’s going to be one stumble after the next, until you can go to bed and get a fresh start the following morning?

That’s what happens to 11-year-old Alexander, a doom-and-gloom youngster who tries to warn his family that anything they attempt is bound to turn out badly—all because his own day begins with a wad of gum stuck in his hair and then slides quickly into a vat of bubbling disasters, both small and large. What’s worse, it’s the day before his 12th birthday.

The rule of thumb for most movies told from the point of view of a child is that they tend to appeal to audiences who are the same age or younger than the star. That would make Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day aimed at elementary schoolers. But because Walt Disney Studios tried to broaden the appeal by bringing in more extreme situations and having the bad luck extend to every single family member, my guess is that it may also appeal to families with pre-teen children. It features an unlikely Date Night sequence of events and a motor vehicle that ultimately, as with the family from Little Miss Sunshine, brings them closer together.  

Alexander has the same tone and voiceover vibe as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, only my family enjoyed it more and it’s less faithful to the children’s book that inspired it. Loosely based on the 1972 award-winning book by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz, it stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as the parents, Ed Oxenbould as Alexander, Dylan Minnette as his older brother Anthony, and Kerris Dorsey as Emily, his older sister. There’s a baby, too, but the focus is on the family members with things on the line.

AlexanderscreenEveryone has something big going on in their lives. Emily is walking around the house warbling her solo from Peter Pan, the school play in which she has the starring role and which opens the next day. Anthony is gearing up to take his driver’s test so he can drive his high maintenance girlfriend (Bella Thorne) to the prom. Mom is a higher-up at a publishing company who is in charge of a new children’s book that’s launching that day, and Dad, an out-of-work aeronautics engineer, finally lands a job interview . . . with a video game company.

And, of course, what can go wrong does go wrong, in spectacular film comedy fashion.

It’s amusing to see Dick Van Dyke again in a cameo role as a celebrity reading aloud from a children’s book that has an unfortunate recurring typo in it, and equally fun to watch Carell play an at-home dad who tries to connect with a group of young nerdster (that’s a cross between a hipster and a nerd) video gamers. Although there are funnier driving test sequences—the one from The Naked Gun comes to mind—that bit also provides a few laughs.

Don’t think too much about it, though, because you’ll wonder why the parents aren’t reacting differently to the things things kids are doing. I mean, what parents would reward their son with a trip to the driving license facility after getting a call from the school that he’s damaged school property? But you’re not supposed to think about any of this, and that’s the point. Alexander is lightweight entertainment and doesn’t try to be anything else.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has, in addition to the longest title in recent memory, one of the shortest runtimes, coming in at just 81 minutes—another sign that it’s geared for the short-attention-span crowd. We’ve seen it all before, but what it does, it does fairly well.

Ultimately, there are just enough laughs in this PG-rated comedy to entertain families with children age 12 and under. But I think that families with older children will find the voiceover narration and the POV pitched too low to warrant repeat play.