After seeing the trailers for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, I expected it to be just what the title implies: terrible, horrible, no good and very bad. I expected this because of the sappiness and reliance on kid-friendly drama that the trailer hinted at. The main star (Ed Oxenbould) looked like one of the many annoying young actors that could cripple an entire film just with his voice. I hated the trailers. Crazily enough, I enjoyed the movie. And not only did I enjoy the movie, but I liked it very much.
Based on the book (isn’t everything these days?) by Judith Viorst, Alexander (and yes I will call it Alexander from here on out because that title is just too long to be repeated) tells the story of a young boy named Alexander. Duh. To say he is an outcast would be an understatement. In actuality, he has some of the worst luck in the world. From the time he wakes to the time he sleeps, his life is bombarded with misfortune. His family on the other hand, not so much. They get on just fine, so caught up in their own lives that they seem to overlook his misfortune completely. Well, Alexander happens to have a birthday coming up, so what does he do when it arrives? You guessed it. He makes a wish that his family would experience a little taste of his luck, or should I say lack thereof. It has the elements of Liar Liar and Home Alone, and thankfully, the ingredients mix together to form a fine family film that works for all ages.
Despite coming off as annoying in the trailer, Ed Oxenboult isn’t an annoying presence in the movie. In fact, his character was one that I personally identified with because of experiences in my own childhood, and Ed’s acting was just fine. It isn’t star making material by any means, but hey, for the movie it is, he did a fine job. The big stars of Alexander are the parents of the titular character, played by Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner. Garner, no stranger to movies like this (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, etc.) delivers some nice work alongside Steve Carell, an actor that has had smashing success in both the comedic realm and the dramatic. Here, he balances both. He’s funny mostly and never as jerky as he was in The Way, Way Back (an excellent movie and an excellent performance from Carell), but it’s not the slapstick goofiness of Brick Tamland. Together, he and Garner conjure good chemistry that makes us care about the family for the short running time. Kerris Dorsey (you may know her from Moneyball or the Showtime series Ray Donavon) plays Alexander’s younger sister and for the most part, she does a good job, as well the older brother played by Dylan Minette (he plays Blizzard in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
An impressive aspect of Alexander is its ability to give each of these family members their own individual personalities and problems. Ben, his dad, is trying to get a job at a video game design company. Kelly, his mom, is trying to get her new children’s book published. Emily, his sister, is trying to rehearse for her Peter Pan production. Anthony, his brother, is trying to get his driver’s license so he can take his girlfriend to the prom. And Alexander himself is trying to get everyone to come to his birthday party instead of the most popular kid in school. Somehow, in a short 81 minutes, it manages to balance them all and make us care. No time is wasted. It starts, it goes, and it doesn’t stop.
Alexander isn’t a perfect movie. There have been better family films this year in the realm of animation, but I can’t think of any live action family films that stand against it. I found myself pleasantly surprised at the fact that I was thrilled to see what these characters were going to go through next. The movie ends on a nice note and if you have a soft spot for animals it may even touch your heart. Let the adult in you see Gone Girl if you’re only going to see one, but if you happen to take the family out, this is a good pick.