The 400-Word Review:
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
By Sean Collier
October 13, 2014

I wouldn't have expected the stroller to win a head-on collision with a car.

The world of live-action family comedy rarely garners much attention, in part due to the dominance of animation among all-ages fare. It’s also a matter of targeting; while kids grow out of watching other (real) kids on screen at a fairly early age, Pixar and Disney (and, to a lesser extent, Dreamworks) seem to attract across generations.

Consider this an unexpected alert, then: we’ve actually got a live-action family comedy with the potential to entertain the entire family. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day — aside from having a title that takes up a nice chunk of my word count all on its own — is the rare comedy that includes jokes for a variety of age groups without alienating any. It also steadfastly avoids the path of least resistance through dirty jokes — another rarity.

Ben (Steve Carell, funny) and Kelly Cooper (Jennifer Garner, less so) have impossibly cool jobs and a brood of confident, talented children. When the awkward outlier among the litter, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), wishes that his family would understand his daily struggles, it leads to calamity for the clan as Alexander triumphs.

Alexander cribs notes from recent, (very) grown-up hit comedies; there’s a bit of the Apatow fingerprint evident, loud slices of Ferrell/McKay bombast and a blatant homage to 21 Jump Street. It’s less a wholly original work (or an adaptation of its source material, a 1972 children’s book) as it is a translation of 2010s comedic style for a broad audience.

But there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when it is relatively effective. The jokes are neatly set up and executed; the mayhem unfolds in a reliable rhythm. A good number of the gags have streaks of sitcom-style absurdity — developments are frequently introduced to shove the family to the next set piece, regardless of believability — but Alexander never becomes distractingly absurd.

Supporting appearances by Megan Mullally and Donald Glover are disappointingly brief, but an unexpected cameo by a very senior member of the big-screen aristocracy — I won’t spoil it — is delightful. Fortunately, Carrell once again brings enough earnestness to the film to carry the weight (with an assist to the most talented of the children, Kerris Dorsey as Elizabeth). Is it thin and forgettable? Sure. But there’s a decent chance that multiple generations will get a chuckle out of Alexander, and that’s no small achievement.

My Rating: 7/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at