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Better Nate Than Ever is applause worthy family entertainment
Tim Federle adapts his same-titled 2013 young adult novel for the small screen in Better Nate Than Ever. Nate Foster (Rueby Wood) has big dreams. His whole life, he has wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he would settle for just seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he is stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where only his best pal Libby (Aria Brooks) appreciates a good show tune?
There is an open casting call for Lillo & Stitch the Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and major stardom. When his parents leave town for a romantic getaway, Nate and Libby plan a daring overnight escape to New York. While in the Big Apple, Nate has a chance encounter with his long-lost Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow) that turns his journey upside-down. Together, they must learn that life’s most extraordinary adventures are only as big as your dreams.
Given that I am not in the reading demographic, I had no idea that Better Nate Than Ever was based on a series of best-selling books. However, the film’s premise caught my attention as it had the makings of an underdog story, which I am a fan of, so I decided to give the movie a look. The film opens with a lively musical number from our lead, Rueby Wood, and instantly won me over. Hailing from Broadway, Wood is fresh off his performance of the national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Possessing a charisma well ahead of his years, Wood quickly pulls us into his character and we want to see him succeed. Early in the film, we see Nate face a rejection when he is negated to the role of a tree in the chorus, instead of the lead role he craves in his middle school’s current production. I commend Tim Federle for how he handles this angle, as it gives Nate the motivation to work harder.
Outside of Lisa Kudrow, the supporting cast is primarily made up of unknowns, allowing me to tap into the characters more. Similar to Ruby Wood, Aria Brooks is a star in the making. In a role that could have quickly gone the way of a stereotype, Brooks turns the part into something else as she fully taps into Black Girl magic that kept me smiling anytime she was on screen. While I wish I could get more in-depth about the arc Federle creates for her, let’s just say it is enough durability in Libby’s character for a spin-off.
There is one particular moment between Nate and Libby that I am sure will raise the eyebrows of some parents and bring on think pieces. However, I can assure you that it is handled tastefully. Federle could have pushed the moments as far as Disney would have allowed, but I commend him for not making it a huge issue.
When the credits rolled on Better Nate Than Never, Barrack Obama’s quote “One voice can change a room” hit my mind. Better Nate Than Ever is recommended for your next family movie night. The film never overstays its welcome and features honest and heartfelt performances. I sincerely hope that this film finds an audience it deserves.
Final Grade: A
Better Nate Than Never arrives on Disney +, April 1st
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