For the second time in two weeks, I find myself writing about a Disney+ release that flies directly in the face of how corporate Disney treats the LGBTQIA+ community. Like Cheaper by the Dozen, Better Nate Than Ever is very much a made-for-TV feeling movie with its heart in the right place. The film stands as an unabashedly dorky love letter to theater kids everywhere and a positive, normalizing depiction of a young gay character.
The film tells the story of a wannabe theater kid, Nate (Reuby Wood), who is rejected from his middle school theater production. On a whim, and with the influence of his best friend Libby (a charming Aria Brooks), Nate takes a surprise road trip to New York. He journeys to take a chance on a dream and take his chances in an open audition for a big Broadway adaptation of Lili and Stitch.
Nate’s superpower is his boundless optimism and passion for Broadway. It’s hardly a groundbreaking narrative but it is a kind, pleasant one with an empowering message about the value of chasing a dream. Perhaps most effective in the film is Lisa Kudrow (Friends) – an aspirational figure in Nate’s life: his aunt, a real life New York Actor. Her reality is that of a struggling working actor and Kudrow is compassionate and effective in the part.
Look, there are many quibbles to be had here. Reuby Wood’s performance is a bit broad and overwrought, but it’s the right sort of energy for the project at least. The production design and filmmaking are best described as functional. The plotting is shamelessly manipulative. Nevertheless, I found some simple charm in the movie’s underdog plotting. It’s so deeply in love with the theater – and has a few great offhand jokes – that I couldn’t help largely enjoy the film.
Better Nate Than Ever will be released on Disney+ this Friday, April 1.