Directed by Tim Federle, ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is a family-comedy film that centers around 13-year-old Nate Foster (Rueby Wood). Living in Pittsburgh with his parents and older brother Anthony (Joshua Bassett), Nate wants to be a Broadway star one day. While his parents are supportive, Nate’s biggest cheerleader is his best friend and fellow theatre enthusiast, Libby Reneé (Aria Brooks). Nate is constantly shunned by his peers and is never cast for any significant role in school plays. So, Libby encourages him to audition for a Broadway adaptation of ‘Lilo & Stitch.’
Since Nate’s parents are away and Anthony is staying with his friends, Nate and Libby sneak out to New York. Nate then convinces his Aunt Hilda (Lisa Kudrow) to be his adult supervisor so he can give an audition and begin his theatre career. The musical film resonates with the younger audience trying to find themselves and the elder ones who see their past struggles, passion, and determination reflected in this ambitious young boy. With its star-studded cast and mind-blowing music, the film has been received well by the majority, though its biggest strength is its sweet and relatable coming-of-age story. Let’s explore whether ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is deep-rooted in reality or not.
Is Better Nate Than Ever a True Story?
‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is partially based on a true story. It is an adaptation of director Tim Federle’s 2013 eponymous novel. Meant for middle graders, Federle’s debut novel has been loosely inspired by events from his own life. He was also raised in Pittsburgh, and as a theatre kid, he would often travel to New York for auditions. The theatrical aspects and Nate’s sexuality in the book are a reflection of a young Federle, who wanted to be his own person and leave a mark on this world while trying to discover himself as a young child. Interestingly, when Federle was 13, he also had a best friend like Nate’s buddy Libby.
The book is followed by two sequels titled ‘Five, Six, Seven, Nate!’ and ‘Nate Expectations.’ Federle’s motive behind writing the book was to convey an optimistic journey of self-discovery that a child goes through to find their inner calling. Nate’s drive for theatre not only mirrors Federle’s passion but is also a metaphor for coming out of the side and into the spotlight to present your truth to the world. Even the choice of the musical in the book, an adaptation of ‘E.T.,’ and the role of the alien that Nate is auditioning for is a symbol of the loneliness and alienation that teenagers go through at a young age.
The book’s title ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ also exemplifies that the best version of you is the true version of you. The transformation of this critically acclaimed book into a musical film began when Lin-Manuel Miranda read the book, passionately tweeted about it, and talked about it in the New York Times. Soon, Federle got a call from Fox calling him to discuss his book. This prompted Federle to write a screenplay adapted from the 2013 novel while simultaneously working on ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.’
Of course, when it comes to the adaptation of one media form to another, changes are inevitable, and who better to call the shots than the author of the book, who just happened to be the one directing the film as well. While Fedrele did have to remove certain elements from the book, he tried to keep the most entertaining and heart-touching parts of the source material. More changes were made to ensure good visual storytelling of the written source.
One significant change between the book and the movie is the musical that Nate auditions for. In the movie, it’s the Broadway adaptation of ‘Lilo & Stitch’ where Nate strives for the role of Stitch, while he auditions for ‘E.T.’ in the book. Since the film is a Disney original production, the reason to opt for the 2002 animated film seems understandable. Moreover, the prevalent theme in ‘Lilo & Stitch’ is the importance of family. Along with the message of familial relationships, the character of Stitch holds the same weight as E.T., given that they are both aliens.
Fedrele believes that choosing the alien character of Stitch adds heavily to the themes within the movie as it showcases the importance of chosen family in the theatre and queer community. Another great aspect of the film is the embodiment of NYC as a character. Shown in all its splendor, the city is given its due credit as a beacon for theatre artists and the place where people come to make their dreams a reality. Thus, author and filmmaker Tim Federle’s inspiring semiautobiographical film ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ urges one to always be true to oneself and never give up hope in the pursuit of one’s dreams.
Read More: Where is Better Nate Than Ever Filmed?