It has been said that you should “write what you know.” And Tim Federle has certainly done just that with his new movie “Better Nate Than Ever.” Based upon his 2013 novel of the same name, the Disney Plus original sees theater-obsessed Pittsburgh middle schooler Nate Foster (Rueby Wood – in his first big-screen role!) traveling to Manhattan with his best friend, Libby Reneé (Aria Brooks), to try out for a Broadway musical, a premise the author/actor/dancer/director/all-around multi-threat knows quite a bit about.
A self-professed “theater kid,” Federle was born in Foster City, Calif. (this writer’s hometown!), but spent his formative years in Pittsburgh, where he fantasized about one day making it big on the Great White Way. Upon turning 19, he moved to New York and saw his dreams become a reality in just a few short years via a stint choreographing “Billy Elliot: The Musical” and roles in “The Little Mermaid” and “Gypsy.” Once Broadway was tackled, Federle decided to change gears, shifting his sights from the stage to the page. And the rest is history! He explained to Dance Spirit, “An acquaintance in the publishing industry suggested that, rather than trying to write a vampire novel or historical epic, I stick with a topic I know well: the performing arts and all the craziness behind the scenes. When I finally opened my laptop to write, I was surprised by how quickly it all came together. Once I had the characters in mind (everyone in ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is loosely based on a person in my life) and a premise that made me smile (‘a small-town boy runs away from home to crash an audition for “E.T.: The Musical”’), it was just a matter of showing up at the computer every day and seeing what happened.”
The novel went on to win a slew of awards and was eventually optioned by Disney. A true Renaissance man, Federle not only penned the script for the movie himself but directed it, as well. The completed project, a sincerely happy little film, premiered March 15 to much praise, with the Polygon website asserting, “‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is exactly what Disney Plus needed.”
The flick isn’t just for theater lovers, either! As Federle told Entertainment Weekly, “Nate is very much a classic middle school protagonist who dreams of this big wide somewhere out there. And whether your dream is baseball or politics or being a chess player or whatever, a lot of us were that kid from a small town. This is for underdogs out there, anyone who feels like they’re the costar of someone else’s story because we’re all the stars of our own life. And while the odds are crazy in show business and in New York and frankly just in staying sane as a normal human, somebody beats the odds every day, and I hope the audience who watches this remembers that could be them too.” Feel-good through and through, “Better Nate Than Ever” certainly brings some much-needed optimism to the screen.