'Bad Day' has a snappy silver lining – USA TODAY

It may have the year’s longest title, but Alexander’s movie is not terrible, horrible, or even half bad. In fact, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (**½ out of four; rated PG; opens Friday nationwide) is a pleasant, entertaining way to spend just under 90 minutes, particularly if accompanied by children.
The movie’s appeal is largely due to director Miguel Arteta’s light touch, as well as the affability of Steve Carell and the low-key charm of the titular ‘tween character, played by Ed Oxenbould.
Alexander is easy to identify with. He’s a middle child surrounded by good-natured siblings and well-meaning parents (Carell and Jennifer Garner) who rarely have bad days. Yet Alexander feels dogged by misfortune.
His 12th birthday party looms, but a more popular classmate is having a party on the same day that promises more fun, better games and a hot tub. Everyone, including his best friend, is going to the other party. Plus, In trying to impress the cute girl he likes (Sidney Fullmer), Alexander nearly burns down the school’s chemistry lab.
Though it updates and expands upon Judith Viorst’s 1972 children’s book, the movie still captures the travails of middle-school existence with humor and plenty of goodnatured mayhem. It doesn’t overplay the craziness, however. That’s not to say there’s much subtlety here. Rather, it’s forgettable, cheerful fun, reminiscent of such Disney family fare as Flubber.
Only half the movie focuses on Alexander’s rotten experience. As a result of an innocent wish he makes while blowing out a candle on a birthday sundae, mishaps befall his entire family. Silly shenanigans ensue.
On the morning of the prom, Alexander’s 16-year old brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) wakes up with the biggest zit of his life — right in the middle of his forehead. Later, his disastrous driving test is one of the film’s funniest scenes, presided over by a hilariously conniving official (Jennifer Coolidge).

A mishap involving Alexander’s publishing exec mom (Garner) that results in an embarrassing celebrity reading by Dick Van Dyke (in a short-but-sweet cameo) seems more far-fetched than laugh-inducing.
Not surprisingly given his comic expertise, Carell is responsible for some of the funnier moments. He plays an eternally optimistic rocket scientist laid off from his engineering job. A stay-at-home dad who can make a mean frittata, he’s so agreeable and devoted to fatherhood that he goes to Mommy & Me yoga. And enjoys it. He’s especially thrilled when baby Trevor utters his first word, “Fommy” (for Father Mommy.)
The movie suffers a bit structurally when Alexander confesses his birthday wish is the source of all the unpleasant goings-on, but it’s saved by Carell’s goofy bout with a wayward kangaroo.
Arteta, best-known for directing offbeat indies such as 2000’s Chuck & Buck and 2011’s Cedar Rapids, keeps it all from being too gooey.
The overall message is pleasantly sweet: Bad days happen. Not only are they inevitable, but they serve to make the good times worth savoring.
There’s nothing dreadful about that.


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