When it comes to musicals, most film adaptations can be hit or miss. The same, of course, could be said regarding adaptations of beloved books. For those familiar with the book, Better Nate Than Ever is sure to be enjoyable, however, for those unfamiliar? It’s quite the family film that’ll leave viewers with a tune in their head by the time the credits finish.
Better Nate Than Ever tells the story of middle-schooler Nate Foster, played by newcomer Rueby Wood, who has vivid fantasies of wanting to become a Broadway star. Of course, as an outcast at school who can’t seem to catch a break in his local drama club, it seems unlikely he’ll get the chance to command the stage anytime soon. His best friend, Libby (Aria Brooks), however, has an idea when his parents take a weekend trip, leaving him and his older brother behind at their Pennsylvania home. What soon follows is a wholly unrealistic story of two 13-year-old kids running off to New York and somehow securing an audition for an upcoming play. It’s absurd, and utterly dangerous for two minors going out of state on their own without their parents knowing. And yet, everything that comes after is somehow enjoyable.
The musical numbers are delightful, even if some may go on for a few minutes longer than necessary. More importantly, though, the two young stars — Wood and Brooks — are a wonderful duo. Both are stars in the making, with Brooks easily stealing the show every minute she’s on the screen. Their on-screen relationship feels natural, as those these two truly are the best of friends, eager to see both of their dreams come to fruition. Even better are their interactions with the always wonderful Lisa Kudrow, who proves to be a great surprise addition to this family film.
It feels like a classic Disney Channel Original Movie, and that’s a good thing. Those were something the younger audience used to look forward to because they were exciting — full of fun moments, an impressive young cast and an outrageous plot that families could enjoy together. It’s hard not to smile while watching it. That isn’t to say the film isn’t without its flaws. The way Nate’s sexuality is addressed is strange. It’s constantly hinted at, never addressed head on, and yet, most of the characters seem a bit uncomfortable when they hint that he’s a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. It would’ve been nice to see it addressed a bit more, especially given young kids could benefit from that kind of representation from the media they consume. Still, even with the minor hiccups regarding that, the film does a good job at reminding its young audience to accept themselves and follow their dreams.
Better Nate Than Ever is a surprisingly cute film that is all about remembering to follow your dreams, despite what others think.
Better Nate Than Ever will stream exclusively on Disney+ upon release.