Whether it's the awkward pirate blouse that dad Ben (played by Steve Carell) is wearing on the ride home in the family's broken-down minivan, mom Kelly's (Jennifer Garner) bare feet on the gas pedal, Baby Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas) covered in green marker, or the muffler that falls off the minivan onto an idyllic suburban street, we quickly realize that 11-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) isn't the only one who might need a serious "Groundhog Day"-style do-over.
And lucky for family audiences with kids of all ages, they'll get the benefit of lots of laughs without the actual stress.
Based on the 1972 children's book of the same name, Disney's feature film version expands on the bad luck of Alexander in the 32-page book by author Judith Viorst and spreads the disaster love around to each member of his family—from his high school brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette), who's desperate to have an amazing prom night, to his middle school sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who's starring as Peter Pan in her school play.
After experiencing his own terrible day, without the sympathy of his otherwise upbeat family, the Australia-obsessed Alexander makes a late-night birthday wish to include everyone else in his horrible, no-good madness.
That's when the film really takes off. Leaving the content of the original book behind, audiences are able to delve further into the misadventures of the family, all to comic effect. While kids will definitely commiserate with poor Alexander, whose popular school rival has the nerve to be hosting a super-cool party (yogurt machine and all) on the same night as Alexander's birthday party, parents will relate to Kelly, who's balancing a thriving career with family and Ben, who's a stay-at-home dad looking for work after a layoff.
Teens can also get in on the fun, as they follow the relationship woes of Anthony, who's struggling to impress his girlfriend Celia (Bella Thorne), while learning the ins and outs of hashtag-based love. Anthony's driving test sequence in the movie will have kids and parents laughing out loud. (High five to the reliably funny Jennifer Coolidge as the driver's test administrator.)
What makes this film especially family friendly is just how supportive everyone is of each other, when they get right down to it. And while Alexander definitely experiences some seriously bad luck, it's exactly that luck that brings his parents and siblings closer together.
Not only that, but his love for Australia (a detail expanded on from the book) gets an amusing and clever (PG-rated) payoff.