Better Nate Than Ever review: A teen’s life in cartoon motion

They don’t have kids like Nate Foster anymore. Armed with a need to dazzle and dazzle, Nate has an infectious energy and unwavering determination. Beneath an awkward exterior, there’s a star just waiting to be discovered. Instead of dreaming of TikTok stardom or reality TV stardom, however, the only thing the 13-year-old wants to be is the lead in his own big-budget Broadway musical. Where is the harm in that?

In the light-hearted but exhausting Disney+ original film Better Nate than ever, the answer is, of course, none. If the destination is obvious, the journey to it has just enough spark to make it mildly interesting, even when stereotypes about New York, sassy best friends and single aunts are out of the mothballs.

A star is (again) born

From the opening scene to the revival of “On Broadway” by George Benson, including the numerous references to Bad, it’s clear that Nate (Rueby Wood) loves the Great White Way. Stuck in small town Pennsylvania, Nate does his best to fulfill his stage dreams by trying out for the lead role of Abraham Lincoln. After failing to be cast even as a stunt double, Nate and his best (and only) friend, Libby (Aria Brooks), concoct a plan to make Nate’s dream come true: he’ll audition for the lead role of Stitch in an upcoming Broadway play. . production of Lilo & Stitch. After telling Nate’s working-class parents (Norbert Leo Butz and Michelle Federer, two married Broadway veterans in real life) and wrestler brother (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series‘ Joshua Bassett) that he’ll be spending the weekend with Libby, the middle schoolers hop on a bus to the Big Apple to chase their dreams.

Antics, of course, ensue, and the film has fun juxtaposing the harsh reality of New York City, with its bored Duane Reade cashiers and trash-covered streets, with the idealized version of Nate, who comes straight out of On the city. Needing an adult to sponsor his audition, Nate enlists his aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow), an actress who does more restoration than Shakespeare, to help him. Secrets are revealed, hearts are broken and mended, and would it surprise you if I told you that it all works out in the end?

beyond the stage

Nate and Libby smile at each other in Better Nate Than Ever.

If the plot is routine, and it is, the direction manages to breathe enough life into the film to make it enjoyable. The director, Tim Federle, knows the material very well; After all, he wrote the young adult novel on which the screenplay is based. He nails Nate’s musical numbers, drawing inspiration from Sing in the rain for To rent without being too obvious about it, and infuses the film with a comic book energy that gives it a zip not normally seen in movies like this. And he clearly loves New York and Broadway too, both what they are in real life and what young dreamers like Nate imagine them to be. It’s the rare Disney movie that can crack a good joke about the struggling actors’ favorite neighborhood of residence (Queens).

The acting is what you’d expect from a Disney+ movie: all over the place and generally not very good. As Nate, Wood sells his character’s naivety and determination without being too cute. Short in stature and possessing a small voice still unaffected by puberty, Nate is constantly challenged by the big dreams he wants to achieve, and Wood is compelling enough to make Nate’s plight acceptable – you will. may the little boy succeed.

As Libby, Brooks struggles to rise above the “best friend” clichés that her character grapples with. Butz and Federer make enough of an impression in their brief screen time to make you wish they had bigger roles, and Bassett just isn’t convincing as a high schooler who apparently hates, but really loves, his brother. Worst of all is, surprisingly, Kudrow, who exaggerates his Phoebe mannerisms and makes his Aunt Heidi appear mentally unstable. It doesn’t help that she’s wearing one of the worst ’80s wigs you’ve ever seen.

Don’t Say Gay…Literally

Nate holds his hands against a car window in Better Nate Than Ever.

Better Nate than ever is ultimately a disposable film, good enough for kids and bearable for parents, and it’s not particularly notable… except that it’s coming out right now. The Walt Disney Company is being criticized for its lackluster response to “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida. invoice. In defending his company’s politically neutral stance, CEO Bob Chapek mentioned Black Panther, Pose, Encantoand other products produced by Disney, saying “all [Disney’s] various stories are our corporate statements – and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort.

There is no doubt Better net than ever qualifies as one of these diverse stories. After all, Nate loves the theater, can recite a design women monologue by heart, has a rainbow-colored lucky bunny’s foot, and gently drops Libby, who secretly has a crush on him, telling her he doesn’t love her – nor any girl – this way. In other words, Nate is gay, and yet that word is never clearly spoken on screen. Don’t say gay indeed.

It’s 2022, and it’s ridiculous that a film directed by an openly gay man, based on a novel with an openly gay protagonist, and with a main character who loves musical theater and Bernadette Peters for god’s sake, has yet to convey his gay identity through winks and nudges. That’s why the reaction to Disney’s neutral stance has been so strong. It is no longer enough to be neutral. Nate is better off being gay and saying it loud and clear without tortured metaphors or veiled innuendo than having no identity.

Better Nate than ever premieres on Disney+ on April 1.

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