Beezus Quimby is perpetually irritated that Ramona steals her sunshine. Ramona is perpetually annoyed that she can't escape her sister's long shadow.
As Beezus, Selena Gomez (the Harriet Potterish teen on Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place) nicely plays an anxious high schooler, a straight-A student exasperated by Ramona's hyperactive imagination. Ramona (Joey King, refreshingly natural) feels bad because everything Beezus does is right and everything she does is wrong. Can this sisterhood be saved?
Their sibling rivalry takes a back burner to bigger family issues. When Dad (John Corbett) gets downsized and Mom (Bridget Moynahan) can get only part-time work, the sisters have to pull together despite the stuff that divides them. Will they lose the house? And have to move?
Director Allen, whose previous film was the uninspired mermaid saga Aquamarine, tells the Quimbys' story gracefully. She elicits remarkably honest performances from her younger stars.
Ramona finds support in her sympathetic aunt (Ginnifer Goodwin), herself a younger sister who has grown up in the shadow of an older sibling.
The overall tone of the film is sunny, with Ramona and Beezus resiliently turning life's lemons into lemonade. Dad may lose his job - but he finds his vocation. Ramona and Beezus may resent their differences, but learn to treasure them - not as flaws, but as strengths.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/