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REVIEW: Better Nate Than Ever

 After forcing a horrible musical on myself last week (the filmed version of Diana: The Musical), it was nice to bite into a film in that genre that is a little more enticing.  Released on Disney Plus, Better Nate Than Ever is a story about a young boy obsessed with stage musicals.  Rueby Wood plays Nate, who becomes crushed when he doesn't land the role he wanted in his school's musical.  His best friend, Libby (Aria Brooks), convinces Nate to travel to New York with her to audition for a broadway musical of Lilo and Stitch.

On his quest to land the role, Nate has to battle a lack of confidence.  He is intimidated by the process as there are a lot of kids auditioning that know a lot more about stage productions than he does.  Libby never gives up on him, and their relationship is very sweet.  Nate's Aunt Heidi, played by Lisa Kudrow in a terrific performance, is someone who has dedicated her life to the stage and has inspired Nate.  As much as she wants him to succeed, his parents do not know that he is in New York and she needs to be responsible and inform them, an action that would end Nate's dream.

This is a very touching story, but it isn't anywhere close to the best musical that has come out in the last number of years.  There are very few musical sequences in the film, which leaves me questioning if it should even be classified as a musical.  As well, some of the production quality, script, and some performances feel less like a feature film and more what I would expect from a made-for-television production.

Rueby Wood, who has performed on broadway, does a solid job with what is asked of him.  Probably the most impressive aspect of his performance is how he manages to tell a story in how he sings.  He is a young person who obviously has a lot of talent, but his character is someone who is scared, nervous, and lacking confidence.  Wood's performance translates those pieces of his character into his voice, letting Nate's songs sound weak and amateurish.  At the very end of the film when Nate gains his confidence, we get a masterful exhibition of just what Wood can do.

The story is simple and straight forward.  There are no real big swerves here.  I did quite like how the film handles one of the character's sexual orientation.  It does not feel like something that is forced upon us in a preachy way, but just presented naturally.  Some movies feel like they want to be seen as progressive by jamming in subplots around this subject, but Better Nate Than Ever just throws it out there and it is accepted.

If you are a musical junkie, you may enjoy this film, but you will probably walk away being disappointed in the lack of song and dance.  There is a lot within this movie that is merely mediocre.  Better Nate Than Ever isn't a game changer on any level.  What it does serve up is a simple story of optimism, and that can sometimes be just what a viewer needs to escape the modern world that we inhabit.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars