Let’s take a moment to honor the lost art of wholesome family entertainment.
At the movies, that ground has been completely overrun by digital, animated spectacle. I’m certainly not opposed, as animation has produced some truly great movies over the past few years, but a little flesh and blood would be nice every now and then.
As for television, you are left with Disney Channel dreck where the adults are all morons and the jokes are as canned as the laugh track.
This is how we’ve arrived at the point that a well-made, unspectacular, live-action family movie feels like a breath of fresh air.
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is based on a beloved children’s novel and is nothing more than a simple, entertaining celebration of family; a subject that is way easier to be cynical about than to honestly, earnestly convey.
Our hero is 12-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould), who suffers the double indignity of being a middle child and a middle schooler.
Feeling overlooked and underappreciated on his birthday, Alexander makes a wish that the rest of his family could feel his pain.
Naturally, the result is a series of unfortunate, suburbanite events that we are able to laugh at because they are little more than extreme examples of first-world problems.
Stay-at-home dad Ben (Steve Carell, playing it relatively straight and buttoned-down) gets his while juggling mischievous Baby Trevor (played Olsen-style by Elise and Zoey Vargas) and a promising job interview.
Type-A mom Kelly (Jennifer Garner, in one of her most naturalistic performances to date) is primed for disaster with a high-profile book launch at her publishing company.
Older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) is practically doomed with the double whammy of a driver’s test and the junior prom.
Last, we have older sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), cursed with having the lead in the school production of “Peter Pan.”
This is a solid cast all around, especially the kids, which can be a hit-or-miss prospect in any movie of this sort.
Director Miguel Arteta seems an odd choice for a movie like this considering most of his career has been made up of edgy television shows and indie comedies like “Youth in Revolt” and “Cedar Rapids.” He smartly keeps the tone of “Alexander” straightforward and low-key, so that all the horrible, no good, very bad things that befall the Cooper family, while highly unlikely, are all grounded in some sort of reality.
The movie also gets points for effectively delivering the counter-intuitive message that it’s usually the hard times that define a family and bring us closer to our loved ones, as opposed to the good times.
“Alexander” feels like a throwback in a lot of ways by being nothing more than an enjoyable time for kids and parents to spend together at the movies. It may even go so far as to prove that maybe, just maybe, we aren’t as jaded as we like to think we are.
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language.