Once More With Feeling
Better Nate Than Ever is a stylish and heart-warming musical with a nice message at its core. Unfortunately, it’s also a movie with serious structural issues, paper-thin characterisation and a surprising lack of conflict for Nate to battle against. I want to say I really enjoyed Better Nate Than Ever (given I adore the theatre and musicals in general) but compared to movies like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and School of Rock, this one pales by comparison.
The story centers on lovable 13 year old Nate Foster. He’s an unpopular kid from Pittsburgh who has big dreams of becoming a Broadway musical star. Given he can’t even land a role in his school’s drama production, he teams up with best friend Libby and decides to hitch a ride down to New York, trying his hand at Broadway instead. There’s a new Lilo and Stitch musical about to take place and Nate is determined to make it big.
What ensues from here is a formulaic and by-the-numbers drama, with a couple of musical numbers sprinkled in for good measure. There’s a fair amount of contrivance regarding the auditions themselves and a surprising lack of obstacles for Nate to tackle that truly test him – outside of his own mental disposition anyway.
I’m being careful not to divulge spoilers here but compared to films like Sing 2 and the aforementioned School of Rock, there’s barely any moments where Nate has to wrestle with the grandeur of his dreams or plans. There aren’t really any moments where Nate finds himself up against the ropes and while the positive attitude is a great asset to have, the only moments of conflict for Nate stems from those aforementioned moments of doubt.
These segments are deliciously surreal too, featuring glitzy, flamboyant renditions of different moments from Nate’s life, dominated by his ongoing mini-feud with his brother Anthony.
I understand that this is a kids film but there’s just not a lot of substance to this one. There’s a few good jokes, a couple of amusing titbits and some pretty catchy musical numbers… and that’s it. The ending is another point of contention too, which feels rushed and actually fails to resolve one of the film’s bigger sub-plots. I’ll have more to say about that in the upcoming ending explained article though!
Better Nate Than Ever has more than enough references to the theatre, plenty of nods toward other Disney flicks and a really likable protagonist in Nate. There’s even a beautifully subverted moment toward the end of the film where Nate faces someone from school whom he’s had issues with at the start of the movie.
These moments are great but unfortunately are too few and far between to make this anything but a throwaway movie you’re unlikely to return to in a hurry. Stay for the theatre references and easy-going story but those after another big musical hit will likely be left disappointed.
Read More: Better Nate Than Ever Ending Explained
Verdict - 5/10