★ ★ ★

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a terrific, hilarious, and—no kidding—very good movie that will delight kids, their parents, and anyone else who buys a ticket. Is it perfect? No. But it’s difficult to complain after you’ve been laughing and smiling for 80 minutes.

The story begins the same way that Judith Viorst’s cherished 1972 children’s book does, as Alexander (first-rate newcomer Ed Oxenbould) wakes up with gum in his hair and then trips on his skateboard. Of course, those two mishaps are minor compared to what happens to young Alexander during the remainder of the day. He learns that no one is coming to his 12th birthday party the next night, because the coolest kid in school is moving up his big birthday bash to the same evening. He is also badly pranked by a school chum, embarrasses himself in front of the girl he likes, and sets a school lab on fire. To make matters worse, his busy parents (Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) and self-absorbed siblings Anthony (Dylan Minnette) and Emily (Kerris Dorsey) are paying more attention to his infant brother than to him, and offer even less sympathy. But this isn’t the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that the title refers to. No, that infamous day starts the next morning, after Alexander makes a wish that his clueless family members would experience some of the truly awful things he faces on a routine basis.

Without giving away too much of what occurs on the day in question, suffice it to say that dad’s job interview with a video-game company, mom’s oversight of a children’s book reading with Dick Van Dyke, Emily’s star turn as Peter Pan in a school play, and Anthony’s road test to get his driver’s license all go horribly, horribly awry. The craziest mishap by far is the driving test. Jennifer Coolidge is screamingly funny as a no-nonsense DMV instructor who tempts Anthony with something he just can’t resist; the result is a family minivan that looks like it just took part in a demolition derby. But the entire cast are mostly solid: Carell and Garner are both in fine comic form, as are Minnette and Dorsey. Unfortunately, Megan Mullally is underused and barely registers as Garner’s demanding boss. The same is true of Bella Thorne as Anthony’s vapid girlfriend.

Illogical things often occur in zany comedies and that’s the case here, which may bother some viewers. Would parents really plan a birthday party on the same day as their oldest son’s prom, their daughter’s premiere in a play, and mom’s biggest assignment at work? Probably not. But the convergence of all of these events certainly adds to the overall hilarity. Fortunately, the movie never takes itself too seriously (except to offer the bromide that bad days happen, and can actually make you appreciate the good days even more) and is riotously funny without being offensive. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a ray of sunshine for families and will likely be used to brighten up many rainy afternoons for years to come.