Some people take rec league softball very seriously, keeping battings stats over the course of a "career." What they miss is obvious to everyone else: It's just a game. And while it may be competitive at times, there's still some new girl from sales playing first base because you have to put her somewhere; she did buy the beer this week, after all.
The point is, it's not a milestone in your life to be pretty good at rec league slow pitch softball and if you are, you shouldn't take it very seriously. "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is an entertaining family film, with some obvious broad comedy and a few unexpected laughs along the way, but it's still just a movie version of one of those vaguely coordinated softball games. It succeeds easily, but there's not much challenge in the win. It's based on the enormously popular children's book published in 1972, so it's astonishing that Hollywood never named the right price for author Judith Viorst until fairly recently.
Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is the third of four kids in the Cooper household. Everything goes swell for his big brother, big sister and his parents, and even when things technically don't go their way, they still always lead with the silver lining before ever mentioning the cloud.
But Alexander is different. His days fall apart as soon as they begin. On the eve of his 12th birthday, he discovers that the most popular kid in school is throwing his birthday party at the same time Alexander had planned his own—ensuring no attendance at the Cooper household—and he burned his would-be girlfriend's notebook in science class.
That night, helping himself to a birthday sundae, Alexander wishes that for once, his family could feel what it's like to be in his shoes. Maybe they'd sympathize if they had one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of their own. So guess what happens. All at once. The calm, roll-with-the-punches Coopers have to deal with one awful thing after another. Baby Trevor eats a green highlighter during a big job interview for his dad (Steve Carell). Alexander's mom (Jennifer Garner) has her publishing career threatened by a typo that leads to an embarrassing celebrity reading by Dick Van Dyke. His brother's prom and driving test are simultaneous dumpster fires, and his sister's big debut as Peter Pan is ruined by enough cough syrup to knock out a horse.
All of this, Alexander thinks, is his fault. He cursed the day, and now he wants nothing more than to walk it back and start over. And yet, the Coopers are still OK. They manage, and do so as a family, which is the key takeaway of the entire movie.
"Alexander," by all accounts, could be a lot worse. It languished in development for a few years, bringing in a new writer and a director who had most recently made "Cedar Rapids," a comedy in which a drunk John C. Reilly masturbates in one end of a hotel pool while watching Ed Helms make out with Anne Heche in the other. That probably wasn't on the sizzle reel he sent over to the folks at Disney.
The comedy here isn't very subtle, but it is mostly genuine. Unlike most live action movies for kids of a certain age, however, the laughs flow from the events of the story and don't just exist because children find poop and people falling over hilarious. In fact, most of the scenarios that make Alexander's birthday so bad for everyone else are adult problems, piled one on top of the other, in a sure attempt to hit a home run with the parents in the crowd.
But again, hitting home runs in rec league softball isn't worth getting that worked up about.