You can write off family-friendly films all you want, but they serve their purpose in the world and occasionally they offer nice, innocuous fun.
The awkwardly-titled "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is such a piece of innocuous fun, a svelte 81-minute film about the Cooper family, who are, in fact, having a pretty crummy day.
Young Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is having a bad day, but that's the standard for him. The rest of his family, however, is used to overachieving all around, including mom Kelly (Jennifer Garner), who is poised for a big promotion, dad Ben (Steve Carell), unemployed but with a great job prospect, eldest son Anthony, who is set to go to the prom where he and his girlfriend are rumored to be named duke and duchess, older daughter Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who is starring in the school play and baby Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas) who said his first word.
Alexander's day was filled with humiliation, accidental arson and the bad news that the most popular kid in school is having his birthday party the same time as his.
A birthday wish that his family could know his misery leads to a monster of a bad day, where everything that could go wrong, does. Carell knows how to make things funny, with something as simple as a wide-eye stare, and Garner plays the supermom well. A scene in a hibachi restaurant might even rival Carell's other hibachi scene in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
Based on the popular children's book by Judith Viorst (though I profess to not knowing how closely it's adapted. I'm old and I don't remember if I even read it), "Alexander" is the kind of family film parents will long for - it is funny and safe for kids, but the humor isn't juvenile, so they'll be equally amused. Sounds like a pretty good day to me.