Review by Sean Boelman
Tim Federle is best-known as the creator of the wildly popular High School Musical: The Musical — The Series, and his directorial debut Better Nate Than Ever is going to tap into much of the same audience. And while it does take a bit of time for the film to find its groove, once it does, it’s one of the most charming family movie to grace the screen (big or small) in a while.
The film tells the story of a boy who lives in a small Midwestern town but dreams of becoming a Broadway star as he sneaks out for an impromptu trip to New York City to audition for the role of his dreams. Like a theater-lover’s version of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it’s a movie that will win over a lot of hearts.
The first twenty or so minutes of the film are absolutely cringe-worthy, as the way in which it presents the protagonist’s rejection in his hometown is ridiculously cheesy. But once he actually makes it to the Big Apple, he’ll win over the love of the audience, much like he wins over the hearts of everyone he meets along the way.
There are also some other things about the movie that are a bit on the distracting side. The fact that the film revolves around a Broadway musical adaptation of Lilo and Stitch is corporate synergy at its worst, and there are more than a few moments in the movie which are heightened for dramatic effect.
Rueby Wood gives his first-ever performance in the leading role, and the kid’s a natural. He does an exceptional job of bringing all of the qualities of the character to life, from the annoying to the charming, and the result is wonderfully endearing. And Lisa Kudrow gives a touching, if somewhat generic performance as the supportive aunt.
One of the best things about this film is its wonderful message about pursuing one’s dreams despite the odds. Granted, going on an unsupervised trip to New York City might not make Nate one of the greatest role models in the world, but the core story here is one about finding one’s calling and sticking with it no matter what discouragement you may face.
The musical bits of the movie are charming, even if they aren’t entirely memorable. The scene that will seal the deal for audiences if they aren’t already convinced by that point is an infectiously energetic rendition of George Benson’s “On Broadway”. And the first big musical fantasy sequence is fun to watch.
Better Nate Than Ever is the type of film that gives you several reasons that you probably shouldn’t like it, and yet, it’s so wholesome and charming that you will be won over by the end. Disney+ is the perfect platform for this, because it will become the family sensation of this spring.
Better Nate Than Ever streams on Disney+ beginning April 1.