Based on the award-winning novel, “Better Nate Than Ever” is bursting with charming positivity that’s contagious. This sweet and funny film about pursuing your dreams is a fantasy for musical theater kids. Artistic types will find a lot to love about the story of a 13-year-old boy and his life’s mission to get his name in lights on Broadway.
A brand new Disney musical is holding open auditions in the city, and Nate (Rueby Wood) views it as the chance of a lifetime. He needs to get to New York so he can strut his stuff, but his parents squash the idea. When the adults leave town on a trip, Nate and his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) sneak off to the Big Apple with hopes of paving a way to fame. But when the duo run into Nate’s estranged Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow), things don’t go quite as planned.
It’s an absolutely implausible story that isn’t believable in the slightest. Nate can’t even get a minor part in the school play (and he’s not even a strong singer), but we are supposed to believe that he has a legitimate shot at becoming a Broadway star. Nate and Libby inexplicably have a surprising amount of street smarts, and they encounter one unbelievable scenario after another. In other words, you’d better be prepared to suspend disbelief before diving in. None of this really matters, however, because the characters are so darn charming that they’re impossible to root against.
Wood’s performance is a series of grand, over-the-top gestures and expressions, which would be distracting in a more serious movie. Here, it’s silly and corny and ridiculous, but it works. Brooks is delightful in every way as a loyal sidekick, and Kudrow stands out with her warm and funny turn as a loving and adoring Aunt who spouts off chestnuts like “find your light” while believing in her nephew every step of the way. It’s saccharine to be sure, but not overly so.
The film is very accepting of being gay or “different,” and there’s a particularly well done scene where Libby professes her love to Nate. He is forced to tell her that he’s not interested in girls, and the dejection on Libby’s face is sad but touching. The film accurately expresses the platonic love that can develop between best friends, and it’s empowering to see the unforced acceptance of a homosexual lead character, especially in a movie aimed at tweens.
“Better Nate Than Ever” radiates positivity and inclusivity, and it’s a feel-good charmer that can brighten up even the most dreary days. With cute kids, a couple of quality original songs, and a universal story about persuing your dreams, this is really enjoyable family-friendly entertainment.