Forty-two years after author Judith Viorst published the 32-page children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Walt Disney Studios brings the story to life on the big screen, courtesy of director Miguel Arteta. The movie, in theaters today, stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as a married couple whose 11-year-old son Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day ever.
Though he receives little sympathy from his busy parents or elder siblings (played by Kerris Dorsey and Dylan Minnette), Alexander eventually helps his family put their own bad days into perspective. The comedy also stars Jennifer Coolidge, Donald Glover, Megan Mullally, Bella Thorne and Dick Van Dyke.
"The chaos that happens in this movie is very familiar," Garner, a mother of three, recently told E! News, "and the idea that bad things happen that you laugh at at the end of the day, that is all very familiar."
Here's what critics are saying about the PG movie:
• Variety's Justin Chang writes that Arteta "puts his actors through their paces with smooth, uninspired professionalism." Still, he takes issue with the fast plot developments. "Things move briskly enough that kids and parents won't feel too beleaguered by the end of the 81-minute running time, though not so briskly that adults won't pick up on some of the clumsier implausibilities in the script," Chang says.
• The New York Times' A.O. Scott laments that the star-studded movie "approaches its young audience with an anxious, condescending smile that masks an unmistakable panic." Additionally, he argues that the film's overall message "goes so far in its insistence on harmony that it starts to feel actively dishonest, repressing the very energies it is pretending to unleash."
• "This is a Disney production, so everything is bright and shiny and suburban without the blight. I swear there is nary a cloud to darken this very bad day," The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey opines. She notes that "there are funny moments," but adds, "most of them already made it into the trailer." She also praises the cast as a whole, and points out that Oxenbould's "imperfections are close to perfect." Still, she argues, "For most of the day...the young actor is asked to keep Alexander in a state of slightly apologetic guilt when you really do wish he'd take a little more mischievous delight in the mishaps."
• The Washington Post's Sandie Angulo Chen praises the film for managing "to make parents and older siblings laugh while still firmly appealing to the elementary-school crowd." She adds, "The talented younger actors handle the comedy like pros, whether it's subtle bits...or obvious sight gags...And as for Alexander, he is the rare kid character who doesn't cross the line from charming to annoying."
• "For a comedy set around one epic catastrophe of a rotten day, this wisp of a farce feels strangely chaos-deficient," The Wrap's Alonso Duralde writes. He argues that Arteta "never lets the proceedings get wild and crazy enough for the kind of comedy of disaster and discomfort that Alexander should rightfully be." Though he notes that the various catastrophes "seem fairly week," Duralde says, "There's nothing despicable (or terrible or horrible) about Alexander...but it's a disappointingly inert comedy."
• The New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier calls it "another loud, boy-centric comedy aimed at 'tweens."
• Like Angulo, Claudia Puig of USA Today appreciates its wide appeal. "Though it updates and expands upon [the] children's book, the movie still captures the travails of middle-school existence with humor and plenty of good-natured mayhem," she writes. Noting that "it doesn't overplay the craziness," she explains that is contains "forgettable, cheerful fun, reminiscent of such Disney family fare as Flubber."
• Forbes' Scott Mendelson calls Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day "a rare example of a pretty good movie that triumphs as much for what it doesn't contain and the choices it doesn't make as for the net-positives." According to Mendelson, it features "one of the most positive and functional families you've ever seen in a mainstream motion picture." He also praises the movie for earning respect and laughter "by not playing its expected chaos for mockery and ridicule, but rather for empathetic humor." As the critic writes, "The film is relentlessly upbeat and astonishingly progressive in how it presents modern family life through the prism of a harmless PG-rated Walt Disney feature."
• The New York Post's Kyle Smith argues that the plot seems "either improbable without being over-the-top or drearily easy to imagine." Taking it a step further, Smith begs the question, "Would small children react differently? Maybe: Kids have no taste." The critic adds, "What ought to be a merry mishegas of misadventure came across as cramped and gray, with all the youthful ebullience of stopped traffic."
• The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman says "most kids" will identify with the tile character. Though he dislikes some elements, he writes, "This is still a Disney film, but it's as if the wholesomeness of '70s titles like The Love Bug or Escape to Witch Mountain have been put through a strainer of Little Miss Sunshine quirk. For heaven's sake, one music cue is set to The Feelies! For family entertainment, you could do a lot worse."
• "The homily-laden wrap-up, stressing the upside of bad days, is enough to make you hold your nose, but it only lasts a moment, which is suggestive of the way Arteta and the cast provide the energy and momentum to get the job done but not overstay their welcome; piling any more cards on this house would have made it collapse altogether," The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes.