New to Disney+ today is the musical family comedy, Better Nate Than Ever. Written and directed by Tim Federle, and based on his novel of the same name, the film follows the story of Nate Foster – a 13-year-old boy who is a fan of musicals and who dreams of landing a big part in a stage production.
In the movie, Nate is a middle school student living with his family in Pittsburgh. Every day, Nate spends his waking hours thinking about musicals and has high hopes of bagging the lead role in the school production of Lincoln: The Unauthorised Rock Musical.
Unfortunately, despite Nate’s enthusiasm, the role goes to another student, leaving him very disappointed. That is until his best friend Libby suggests Nate thinks much bigger, by trying out for a role in a New York production of Lilo & Stith: The Musical, which is currently casting.
After faking a sleepover, to stop their parents from throwing a spanner in the works, Nate and Libby hop on a bus and head for the Big Apple. Upon arrival, they go straight to the location of the casting call, but hit an immediate stumbling block when they don’t have an adult present to sign a consent form for the audition.
However, determined not to let this scupper his plans, Nate sneaks into the audition, and starts the ball rolling on his Broadway journey. But can he achieve his dream of stardom before his parents discover he’s missing, or will he have to return to Pittsburgh and resume his day-to-day life, which is far less appealing?
Better Nate Than Ever stars Rueby Wood, Aria Brooks, and Lisa Kudrow. The movie is a coming-of-age tale which is aimed at the teen crowd, but has enough charm and heart to win over an older demographic too.
The film’s biggest selling point is lead actor, Rueby Wood, who takes on the part of Nate. Wood brings a great deal of personality and warmth to the role, and this combined with his character’s effervescence and overwhelming positivity makes him a joy to watch.
At no point during the movie do you not want to champion Nate and see him achieve his dreams. His journey is one of passion and determination, and it is inspiring and uplifting to see someone with his innocence and light strive to aim for the big time.
Had this actor not been cast in this role, the film may have lost some of its sparkle. Wood shines bright in this part and the movie is stronger for it.
What also strengthens this movie is the way in which It deals with Nate’s sexuality. While the film is very much about a teen trying to figure out his career path in life, and this really is the big focus of the movie, there is also an LGBTQ+ element to his story too.
Although it is never addressed in deep conversation, the film makes it clear that Nate is a queer kid. This is something which is viewed as an intrinsic part of his character, and is touched upon a couple of times throughout the film.
However, this aspect of Nate’s personality is always handled with care and without a heavy hand, meaning the important beats land when needed, and a message of inclusivity is delivered in just the right way. In fact, the message is handled so well, that I don’t mind saying it continually brought a smile to my face and maybe a happy tear too.
Disney has recently been criticised for not doing enough to support the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in the US, and as a company it certainly could do with doing better in its efforts off screen. However, on-screen with this movie, I believe it delivers a story which many queer teens will gravitate toward and this should be noted at the very least.
In terms of the movie’s direction and writing, Better Nate Than Ever is solid stuff. It is frothy in all the right places and writer/director Tim Federle has done a good job of bringing his story to life.
In fact, my only criticism is that for a movie about musicals, I would have liked to see a bit more music in the movie. With the exception of a couple of tunes here and there, the film doesn’t feature a great deal of singing, so this is the picture’s only faux pas as far as I’m concerned.
But despite a lack of songs, watching this film is a pleasant experience. It all just seems to work.
Bright, breezy, and easy-to-watch, Better Nate Than Ever is a lot of fun. Sure, it has a Disney Channel sheen to it, which may put off some audiences, but those who are young at heart and who are looking for a spot of light entertainment should seek it out.