The Reel Review
A bullied 13-year-old Pittsburgh boy with dreams of being a Broadway performer joins his best friend on a once in a lifetime adventure to New York City to audition for Lilo and Stitch: The Musical. Better Nate Than Ever is based on writer/director Tim Federle’s 2013 young adult novel, the first of a trilogy about the character.
Federle’s schmaltzy, family-friendly film clearly is a love letter to all those nerdy theater kids who followed their passions into adulthood. Newcomer Rueby Wood and Aria Brooks display a winsome charm as the sweet outcasts and best friends who share a “go for it” attitude.
The ensemble cast includes Lisa Kudrow as Nate’s Broadway actress/caterer aunt and Joshua Bassett (High School Musical: The Series) as Nate’s impatient, jockish older brother. “On Broadway” singer George Benson even makes a cameo appearance after Nate performs a joyful Times Square busker rendition of his iconic tune which goes viral on TikTok.
After an hour of clumsy, predictable plot and some painfully awkward dream sequences, something special happens in Better Nate Than Ever. It finally finds its soul as it strikes a more serious tone about the difficulties of gay kids finding their place in a sometimes not-so-welcoming world. Its subtle but powerful messages of LGBTQ inclusion and the importance of family, along with a rousing finale, give lift to the film’s third act. Stick around for the credits.
• Rueby Wood starred as Charlie in the first national Broadway tour of 2018’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
• Better Nate Than Ever writer/director Tim Federle was one of the writers of Disney’s Oscar-nominated, 2017 animated film Ferdinand and showrunner of High School Musical: The Series.
• Better Nate Than Ever is also the big breakout role for Atlanta-born Aria Brooks.