Alexander is having an epically bad day on the eve of his 12th birthday. What’s worse is that the members of his family, for whom things are going just swell, are oblivious to his misery.
So, at midnight, as he celebrates alone, he makes one wish as he blows out his candle: that everyone in the family should know what it feels like to have a bad day. Well, not merely a bad day, but a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
Based on Judith Viorst’s popular 1972 children’s book of the same title, this adaptation seems to have one mission: to discredit the “participation ribbon” method of child rearing.
“You got to have the bad days so you can love the good ones even more,” Alexander tritely concludes. A solid sentiment, yes. But too much “Brady Bunch” here and not enough “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” It lacks the genuine feel of sibling rivalry and occasional bonding and the disconnect between kids of a certain age and their parents. It is a story from a boy’s perspective written by someone who thinks they know (or remember) what that is.
Steve Carell, as Alexander’s father, tries hardest to connect with his son and the actor seldom fails to amuse me (see sidebar). He’s an at-home dad for now, rightsized but angling for an engineering job. The highlight of his catastrophic day is his pirate blouse catching fire at a Japanese restaurant. Not quite the impression you want to make on a potential employer.
Things go worse for Jennifer Garner, Alexander’s mother, who lets a major typo slip past her in a new children’s book that celebrity reader Dick Van Dyke recites verbatim. “Don’t take a dump on your brother’s head!” Van Dyke proclaims with the enthusiasm of Jesse Jackson’s famous oration of “Green Eggs and Ham.” (A delivery and reaction that steals the show, by the way.)
Alexander’s siblings fare just as badly. One goes from BMOC to “get off the C.” The other overindulges in cough syrup on her play’s opening night.
Not the laughs I expected from Carrell or from director Miguel Arteta, who helmed the charming 2011 comedy “Cedar Rapids.”
Still, it is harmless family fun, something generally available only in limited quantities.