The whole family is having a tough -- but comical...

The whole family is having a tough -- but comical -- time in "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day," starring Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner as Mom and Dad, and Ed Oxenbould as Alexander. Credit: Disney / Dale Robinette

Judith Viorst's 1972 children's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," tells the story of a boy plagued by minor misfortunes -- lima beans for dinner, for example. Because its protagonist (named after Viorst's own son) is not a brave stoic but a self-pitying whiner, "Alexander" feels honest and real, a fable about hard truths and coping skills. Still in print after 42 years, it's worthwhile reading for adults, too.

At 32 pages, the book may seem an unlikely candidate for a feature-film adaptation, but hey -- it worked for "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (two movies, $517 million worldwide). "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," a Disney film, stretches the book thinner than pizza dough and feels about as nutritious. Still, its intentions are good and so is its cast, particularly Ed Oxenbould, a bright-eyed, expressive 13-year-old making his screen debut as Alexander Cooper.

The movie ages Alexander a bit -- he's about to turn 12 -- and although he still dreams of running away to Australia, he also has tweenage concerns: fickle friends, popularity contests, an unobtainable girl named Becky (Sidney Fullmer). The rest of the Coopers, however, are infuriatingly happy. Just after midnight, Alexander makes a birthday wish that they might share his pain. Faster than you can say "Freaky Friday," things begin going south for everyone.

Ben, the Cooper family's upbeat patriarch (an endearing Steve Carell), suffers through a disastrous job interview; his wife, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), a children's book publisher, flubs an entire printing. Life will also barf on Alexander's older siblings, Emily and Anthony (Kerris Dorsey and Dylan Minnette), in literal and figurative ways. Bella Thorne plays Celia, Anthony's insufferable prom-queen girlfriend.

Breezily directed by Miguel Arteta ("The Good Girl") from Rob Lieber's script, "Alexander" runs a scant 81 minutes, making it awfully short but mostly sweet. One note for fans of the book: Oxenbould, the young actor, happens to be from Australia.

PLOT A young boy and his family cope with problems big and small.

RATING PG (some saucy slang)

CAST Ed Oxenbould, Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Bella Thorne


BOTTOM LINE Judith Viorst's 32-page children's classic is now a rather slim Disney feature. It's short but sweet.

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