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While we’ve had Disney movies revolving around musical theatre (eg. High School Musical), I don’t think we’ve ever had a Disney movie revolving around Broadway before. Well, that wrong has been righted by Better Nate Than Ever, the Disney+ film directed by Tim Federle based on his novel of the same name. Does this turn out to be a smash hit or does it not have any business even being an Off-Broadway production? Read on for my thoughts!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the film begins, we’re introduced to Broadway-obsessed teenager, Nate Foster, played by Rueby Wood. He lives and attends school in Pennsylvania, but his biggest dream of all is to become a Broadway star one day! He’s confident and hopeful for this so much so that he’s crushed when he doesn’t get the lead part in the school musical that he auditioned for. His best friend, Libby Reneé, played by Aria Brooks, tries to cheer him up with an idea that she has.
Apparently, a Lilo & Stitch musical is being made (Disney, please don’t get any ideas!) and auditions are currently being held in New York. Libby suggests that she and Nate sneak out over the weekend without their parents knowing, have Nate audition, and be back home before anyone finds out! With Nate’s parents being out of town for the weekend celebrating their honeymoon by themselves
and his elder brother being out of town for a sporting event, Nate eventually agrees.
He and Libby sneak out of their houses that night and board an overnight bus to New York. They’re enamored by the city once they arrive and head straight for the audition. Unfortunately, they need to have a guardian with them to audition, but as luck would have it, they bump into Nate’s Broadway star aunt, Heidi, played by Lisa Kudrow. She was there auditioning for another play, but is surprised and happy to see Nate! She and Nate’s mother haven’t spoken in years due to her skipping Nate’s mother’s wedding because of a Broadway callback/role.
But she does the responsible thing and calls Nate’s mother to inform her where Nate is. Unfortunately for her, Nate and Libby pass off Libby’s phone number as Nate’s mother’s tricking Aunt Heidi into believing that Nate’s mother is aware of and totally approving of this.
Nate then convinces the management that Aunt Heidi is his guardian and steals the discarded number tag of a previous auditioning kid to enter the auditions. He shows off his quirky, eager personality for the judges, but doesn’t make the cut. Disappointed, he and Libby say their goodbyes to Aunt Heidi and head back on the bus to return home. Before the bus departs however, Nate receives a text asking him to come back for a second audition; apparently his humor stood out and they want to give him a second chance.
He, of course wants to do so, but Libby is disappointed because she can’t stay out any longer without her parents finding out. Also since she’s not a performer, she’s still trying to decide what she wants to do in the Broadway world that doesn’t require her to perform. She also admits to having a crush on Nate to which Nate hints that he’s gay. All these feelings result in a brief dent in their friendship as Nate disembarks the bus and Libby takes the bus home.
He does well at the second audition especially after performing a monologue from the sitcom, Designing Women, and is invited to come back to the actual theater the next day to audition for the role of Stitch. He’s excited, of course, but has to deal with finding a place to stay as he wanders around New York. He eventually calls Libby and the two make up with her advising Nate to find Aunt Heidi at a bar mitzvah that she said she was going to be at. He finds her there and she lets him stay with her for the night.
While he was wandering around New York, he sang along with some Times Square performers which ended up being recorded and went viral. His brother, Anthony, played by Joshua Bassett, comes across the video and after interrogating and picking up Libby, drives to New York to bring back Nate. Their parents, played by married couple, Norbert Leo Butz and Michelle Federer, miss the viral video as they’re too busy celebrating their honeymoon together.
Anthony and Libby arrive at Aunt Heidi’s place with Anthony telling Nate to get in the truck and they’re driving home. Aunt Heidi, is of course confused, since she still thinks that Nate’s parents are aware of this. But Nate escapes via the fire escape before Anthony can catch him and heads for the theater while the others run after him.
Nate doesn’t have money for the subway, but a cleaning lady lets him go through if he takes a picture with her since she recognizes him as the viral star. Eventually he makes it to the theater and starts singing a song written for Stitch at the audition, but his confidence and performance wanes when Aunt Heidi, Libby, and Anthony make it to the theater.
Nate is told by the judges that they’re good and as he leaves, Anthony yells to Nate that he doesn’t embarrass him, a fear Nate has always had. This boosts Nate’s confidence who returns to the stage and blows away the judges as he finishes the song. Afterwards, they bid farewell to Aunt Heidi again and Anthony drives Nate and Libby back home. The next day at school, Nate is summoned to the principal’s office where he finds his parents who have FINALLY found out what happened over the weekend. Afraid that he’s in trouble, he soon realizes that they are not mad at him at all; rather they’re happy because he got the part of Stitch!
Nate’s dream of performing on Broadway comes true, Libby decides she wants to become an agent, Aunt Heidi and Nate’s mom make amends off-screen, and everybody lives happily ever after.
And that was Better Nate Than Ever! I think my biggest issue with this movie is how inconsequential all of Nate’s decisions were. He ran away from home for a weekend without telling anyone, lied about having a guardian, tricked Aunt Heidi into thinking his mother approved of this decision, snuck into an audition using someone else’s (albeit discarded) number tag, ran away from his brother, and went back on stage to sing to the judges after being told that his turn was up WITHOUT ANY CONSEQUENCES WHATSOEVER! He wasn’t reprimanded by anyone for any of these actions even remotely and instead just got all his dreams come true despite breaking so many rules! He also seemed to have gotten multiple chances for things whereas I feel other kids would not have!
Other complaints I had were that the parents were quite stupid and clueless, there were many scenes where I went, “Ah, white people.”, the songs weren’t horrible, but they were unmemorable, and the whole plot point of Nate’s mom and Aunt Heidi not talking for years just patched up at the end without us seeing how that resolution happened in the first place! But besides that, I thought the acting was really great especially by Rueby Wood, Lisa Kudrow, and Aria Brooks. I felt Joshua Bassett could have been better.
I’m sure there will be people who love this movie and while I definitely don’t hate it, I can’t say that I love it either.
So, my final score for this film is 21/35 = 60% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on May 24, 2022.