It’s hard to find words to describe the ray of sunshine that is Better Nate than Ever.
Better Nate than Ever tells the story of Nate Foster (Reuby Wood), an unpopular but spunky 13-year-old theatre student in Pittsburgh who dreams of becoming a Broadway star. When an open audition for the role of his dreams takes place in New York, Nate and his best friend Libby (Aria Brookes) sneak out so that Nate can fight for what he believes is his future. However, after a chance encounter with Nate’s estranged Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow) upends their plans, Nate and Libby must work together in order to make their dreams a reality.
Telling the story of one young man’s dreams of becoming a Broadway star, Better Nate than Ever is an utter delight from start to finish. Directed by Tim Federle (who also wrote the novel upon which the film is based), Nate is sharp, fantastical and fun children’s fare. There is such an enthusiasm and likeability about this film that you cannot help will be drawn in to its world. Musical sequences take on the appearance of a Broadway stage but never distract from the story that’s going on around them. This is not a film where songs burst forth from the cast as they walk down the street but rather are embedded within the life of struggling actors trying to make it big.
After the misfire that was Dear Evan Hanson last year (and arguably Netflix’s Prom), Better Nate than Ever is a return to form for onscreen musicals. These examples prove how important (and divisive) casting a film of this nature can be. However, Nate manages to hit the right notes in this area, especially in young lead Reuby Wood, who sparkles as the indomitable Nate himself. Wood brings an energy and life to the role that makes him undeniably likeable. His chemistry with onscreen bestie Libby (Aria Brookes) works well as the two enjoy some impressive banter, considering their age.
Although it is also fair to say Disney unabashedly uses Nate as an opportunity to show off their IP as use of musicals like Frozen and West Side Story all fall neatly under the Disney umbrella. In fact, there’s even a certain irony about the fact that they are making a musical about Lilo and Stitch within the film, as its one of the few properties that Disney has not turned into a live-action remake or Broadway play. (However, does it make me a bad person that I kind of want to see the Stitch musical now?)
At its heart, this is a film that invites us to follow our dreams. Whether you are young like Nate or older and more established like his aunt, Nate wants to encourage you to take those risks to ‘find your light’. Although Nate’s story takes off very quickly, the film also makes it clear that it is difficult to achieve your goals. There is a struggle involved but the film does not want you to give up in the midst of that struggle. (In this way, it’s also worth noting that this film also carries with it a message of love and support of the LGBTQ community as well.)
Much more than this though, this is also a film but what it means to find your life. Whereas Nate knows instantly what he wants to accomplish, Libby is unsure of her future. She has no interest in being a star yet she loves to support those that can be. However, she still does not know who she is or what she wants to be. As her journey unfolds, Libby begins to understand her role in Nate’s inevitable stardom. In this way, the film reminds the viewer to push forward as there is a place for us all.
While the title Better Nate than Ever may seem a bit outlandish or self-serving, it is also hard to disagree that it’s also accurate. Fueled with a deep affection for Broadway and musical theater, Nate absolutely pops on screen. Most importantly though, it absolutely makes you want to go and find your light as well.
Better Nate than Ever is available on Disney+ on Friday, April 1st, 2022.