Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Alex Stroup, staff writer

I'm only going to say this once: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. With that out of the way it'll now just be AATTHNGVBD, which somehow is almost as long.

AATTHNGVBD is a film of the classic aggressively family-friendly mold. Get some jokes in, get a moral at the end, and no matter what, don't risk offending anybody.

The A in question is Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), who is on the cusp of the ripe age of 12, and for whom things aren't going so well. Not only is Alexander not a particularly popular kid at school, but his parents (Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner) are more focused on work and on his infant brother than they are on him, and his older siblings (Dylan Minnette and Kerris Dorsey) are experiencing success in the romantic and artistic realms. Worse, none of them even seem to be aware that he's foundering.

So at 12:01 a.m. on his birthday, Alexander makes himself a birthday sundae and wishes upon his candle that his family just understand what it is like to have a THNGVBD. Then it's off to sleep—and as so often happens in these movies, when he awakens, he finds he has switched bodies with Jennifer Garner, and must now try to succeed in her professional world while madly trying to get back in the right body.

Wait, no. That's not it.

Rather, he wakes up and finds that on this day, everybody is going to go right for him, while it is going terribly wrong for everybody else in his family. By the end of the day, lessons will be learned about family sticking together.

For fans of the 1972 children's book by Judith Viorst, that may not sound familiar. As is often the case, the source material isn't very long and had to be fleshed out to be even a relatively short (81 minutes) feature-length movie. So where the book is focused on Alexander's bad day, the movie covers that ground in the prologue. By marginalizing Alexander—kind of what Alexander was complaining about—the movie can cover the more complex ground of the lives of people older than 12. 

AATTHNGVBD is a surprisingly mainstream turn for director Miguel Arteta, best known for small, independent, darkly comedic films like Cedar Rapids, Chuck and Buck, and The Good Girl. A darker sense of humor might have helped provide a greater sense of depth here, but instead, it is all pretty much straightforward farce.

Imagine what gags might happen for these scenarios:

  • Young man going to junior prom needs to pass his driving test just hours before picking up his date.
  • Young girl has starring role in school play but develops a cold the night before.
  • Stay-at-home dad has an important job interview but has to take the baby with him.

The most darkly odd bad day is that of the mom as she is overstretched trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and things start to unravel with the release of a new children's book she's overseeing. Unfortunately, that is the storyline that gets the least attention, as it doesn't integrate well with the entire family.

Though Alexander gets to be in the title, the weight of the movie is really on the shoulders of Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner, and they sell it hard. Garner is good, mostly serving as a straight woman to the more physical antics of everyone else. Carrell has a solid career of physical and immature humor, and it works here. Sure, some things are a bit too on the nose as bad dad humor, but then he is playing a dad targeting kids with humor.

To the extent that this movie is a good fit for anybody, it is going to be kids in the 8 to 12 bracket: Not yet too cool for school but old enough to understand most of the issues underlying what is making the day so bad for everyone, and able to keep track of the reasonably complicated way four or five different tracks weave together.

Not many kids much older than that are going to want to admit they saw it, and adults really have no reason to unless they're accompanying one of those 8-to-12-year-olds. Fortunately for any adults dragged along, it isn't a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie—it is just not for them. And did I mention it is only 81 minutes long?

  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
  • Wide theatrical release on Friday, October 10
  • Directed by Miguel Arteta
  • Written by Rob Lieber
  • Starring Ed Oxenbould, Steve Carrell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey
  • Running time: 81 minutes
  • Rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language
  • Alex's rating: 6 out of 10




  1. By Klutch

    Sounds like something from Disney's early-1970s era.

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