Better Nate Than Ever is a love story to theater kids, the ones so firmly in love with musicals and acting that their heart bursts with joy when they hear the song “On Broadway.” The film, written and directed by Tim Federle, who wrote the 2013 novel of the same name, is full of joy. It’s heartwarming and sweet, with a charming lead in Rueby Wood, and a deceptively simple plot that comes alive and makes for an endearing watch.

Nate Foster (Wood) is a 13-year-old from Pittsburgh who has just been turned down for the leading role in his school play. He’s disappointed, of course, having had his heart set on finally getting his big break. Nate sets his sights on a bigger opportunity, however, when his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) convinces him to take a trip to New York City to audition for the Broadway musical of Lilo & Stitch. They take a bus without letting any of their parents know, meeting up briefly with Nate’s aunt, Heidi (Lisa Kudrow), who signs off on Nate’s audition despite her estrangement from her sister.

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better nate than ever review
Aria Brooks and Rueby Wood in Better Nate Than Ever

The film is stitched together by a deep love of musicals; there’s also a sense of respect for the craft, a passion that radiates so strongly from Nate. He wants to be on Broadway so badly and he's willing to continue fighting for that dream despite any disappointments. Wood plays Nate with such warm exuberance that it's hard to do anything but root for him. He is confident in his craft, weakened only by the lack of support he feels from his older brother (Joshua Bassett), who Nate believes doesn't like him or his love of musicals all that much. Their strained dynamic makes Nate's final moment in the spotlight all the better and it feels earned.

There is an infectious energy that permeates the film, with its fantastic musical numbers and love of theater in general. It uplifts the film even when it slips a bit in the character side of things. To that end, the estranged relationship between Kudrow's Heidi and Michelle Federer’s Sherrie isn't given enough time to flourish or be explored. It's one-sided, with Heidi getting a couple of scenes to discuss her regret for not being at her sister's wedding because of an audition, but the audience never gets to see them formally reconcile or even what Nate's mom thinks about all this. Perhaps there wasn't room enough in the story, but it would have made some of the tension a bit more interesting in the end.

better nate than ever review
Joshua Bassett and Lisa Kudrow in Better Nate Than Ever

That aside, Better Nate Than Ever will surely strike the right notes with its target audience. It's bolstered by an enthusiastic cast, all of whom slip into their roles so well, and a sense of jubilation that works in the film's favor. Nate must realize his own dreams while gaining the acceptance of those who don't understand his passion and, crucially, acceptance of himself. In these things alone, the movie succeeds. Federle manages to infuse the film with so much heart and warmth and the care and tenderness is obvious in every scene.

Audiences will be tapping their feet along to the couple of musical numbers throughout the film and be pulled into the story because of Nate, whose perspective and energy is so strong that to be anywhere outside of his orbit is inconceivable. Better Nate Than Ever is full of charm, supportive friendships and familial relationships, and a passionate love of musical theater and these elements work together to create a lovely, entertaining viewing experience.

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Better Nate Than Ever is streaming on Disney+ as of April 1, 2022. The film is 94 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic elements, a suggestive reference and mild language.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)
Key Release Dates
  • Better Nate Than Ever (2022)Release date: Apr 01, 2022
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