Movie Review ~ Better Nate than Ever

The Facts:

Synopsis: 13-year-old Nate Foster has big Broadway dreams. There’s only one problem — he can’t even land a part in the school play. But when his parents leave town, Nate and his best friend Libby sneak off to the Big Apple for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove everyone wrong.
Stars: Rueby Wood, Aria Brooks, Joshua Bassett, Michelle Federer, Norbert Leo Butz, Lisa Kudrow
Director: Tim Federle
Rated: PG
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When I watch movies now, I tend to compare them to movies I saw when I was of a certain age.  With the nostalgia trend in full kick, audiences approaching their mid-forties are fond of finding their new The Goonies or Gremlins or Fast Times at Ridgemont High… to name a few.  Of course, nothing is going to be or beat those films because they were of their time and so perfect for that point in the history of when they were made.  Then there are the movies I see that I wish had been made when I was a kid.  Plenty of titles I see now would have been so great to see when I was younger and the Disney+ offering Better Nate Than Ever is an excellent example of that.

Yep, I’m one of those theater kids (maybe now I should call myself a former, or reformed, theater kid?) who had big Broadway dreams when I was in high school and probably for some time before that.  While I now know there were oodles of old MGM/Warner Bros. movies about guys and gals that fled to NYC with the lights of the Great White Way dancing through their brains, back then, I didn’t know from what was in the small section of the video store I frequented.  Had Better Nate Than Ever, with its plot of a teen that ditches school and heads to NYC for a Broadway audition, been available to me, I indeed would have found it, loved it, and probably been a stowaway on a Greyhound to NYC along with my best friend too.

Based on former Broadway dancer Tim Federle’s bestselling novel, Better Nate Than Ever is cute family entertainment that reaches the rafters with heart and ambition, even if it doesn’t always land its double turns.  Directed by Federle, who also adapts his novel, the movie centers around Nate Foster (newcomer Rueby Wood), a 13-year-old Pittsburgh teenager who lives for the stage even if he can’t get a lead role in the school play.  His best friend Libby (Aria Brooks, Harriet) is often by his side but doesn’t have quite the passion for acting; she just wants to be where Nate is, unlike Nate’s brother Anthony (Joshua Bassett) who it appears wants nothing to do with him.  When Nate’s parents go on an unplanned weekend trip and then leave their boys alone to care for themselves, Libby convinces Nate to quickly bus it to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical which they both think could be his big break.

Of course, hijinks ensue as the two teenagers run into several obstacles as they travel as unaccompanied minors across state lines and into The Big Apple, where the promise of stardom awaits Nate.  Never mind he hasn’t auditioned at this level before and is unprepared for the process, stage parents, competitive auditioners, or unexpected wardrobe malfunctions mid-audition.  Also, though Nate knows his Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow, Like a Boss) has lived in NYC as an actress for some time, the bad blood between her and his mom convinces him not to ring her up just in case she mends fences and turns him in.  Who do you think is the first person he runs into before his audition?

The overall air of fantasy permeates the entire short run time of Better Nate Than Ever, down to a few well-staged but quite stage-bound musical numbers that don’t do much to add anything but padding.  If the entire movie was a musical, I could see these interludes adding something, but they are so sporadic as to feel like afterthoughts.  I’d almost have rather seen this done as a full-on musical to demonstrate Nate’s talents further.  As it is, Wood is a charming performer possessing a pleasant voice but operates on a somewhat limited range in that regard — you can feel their voice is almost ready to break/change. 

The film is saved by a commitment to telling a story for all the Nates who could be watching it, seeing their opportunity to shine and pursue their dreams, either locally or on a larger scale.  There’s a strong message that success doesn’t have to be big to be important or worthy and to celebrate every win.  That reinforcement is critical to share with everyone, especially developing minds, as they figure out what makes them happy and fills their cup.  I know I would have taken a lot away from this if a VHS copy of the movie found its way to my player back in the day.  For that, I give Better Nate Than Ever a solid standing ovation. 

Movie Review ~ Booksmart


The Facts
:

Synopsis: On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night

Stars: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Noah Galvin, Diana Silvers, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga

Director: Olivia Wilde

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: We’re right at the crest of the wave where the end of the school year is about to crash into full blown summer and there couldn’t be a better time for a movie like Booksmart to arrive in theaters.  True, being released in the midst of a bevy of bombastic blockbusters might make its chances of doing big business opening weekend a tad slim but this has sleeper hit/future cult classic/definite midnight screening written all over it.  It’s a movie meant to be discovered and then shared, not one you necessarily make an appointment to see.

I’d heard about the film for a while after it received a positive reception at March’s South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX and deliberately avoided watching the trailer or reading anything more about it until I saw it. This is one I wanted to come to on my own without any ideas on what it should be, or pre-conceived notions on what to expect.  The way we are inundated with information on content it’s hard to go in blind to something but thankfully, I was able to come to Booksmart with a blank slate.

So now, after all that talk of going into the movie with little knowledge, of course I’m going to ask you to read a review of what I think about it – makes total sense, right? Really, I won’t be offended if you stop now and come back after you’ve seen the movie.  Seriously – it’s AOK.  But come back!  Promise?

You’re back? Great!  Wasn’t it good?  I know, right?

It’s the last day of school and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird) is ending the school year on top.  She’s class president and set to go to an Ivy League school in the fall.  By keeping her nose to the grindstone and focusing on her studies she has achieved all of the goals she’s set and has her future planned out not only for her but for her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, Beautiful Boy).  We all either knew a Molly in high school or were a Molly so it isn’t hard to completely get this character – and the way she looks down on those that didn’t put the same effort forward in school, or at least the effort she’s deemed worthy.

When Molly finds out that several key people she originally had written off as destined to be losers for life are also moving on to luxe post-high school careers, she realizes she could have had fun all four years of high school and still made it big. Thus begins a quest for Molly and Amy to get their party on by any means necessary, leading them through a seemingly endless night of encounters with oddball characters and a journey of self-discovery before their graduation ceremony the next morning.

Much of Booksmart follows a typical trajectory of high school comedy that feels safe and familiar but the movie is as unpredictable as they come.  You have your stock characters that flow through (jock, tramp, brain, etc) but all are given a neat little bounce by screenwriters Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman (Isn’t it Romantic), and Susanna Fogel.  No one is quite who you expect them to be…and no one ends the film in quite the same way they start out.  Actress Olivia Wilde (The Lazarus Effect) makes her feature directing debut and shows a real knack for establishing a tone and a rhythm for Molly, Amy, and the strange people they find themselves hanging out with over the course of the evening.

Aside from introducing us to a host of interesting characters (and fresh-faced actors), the film is routinely laugh-out-loud funny as the girls find themselves in increasingly bizarre situations. These moments spring forth naturally and the comedy never feels forced, while there is a lot of physical humor there’s quite a bit of verbal banter that elicits laughs.  Audiences are used to being shown what’s funny but it’s rare for a movie to ask them to listen – you’d almost need to see it twice to get all the humor that is thrown in, though I don’t think it would be a hard sell to get people to screen this one a second time.

The movie wouldn’t work at all if the two leads hadn’t had the kind of chemistry they do. As much as romantic chemistry plays a part in convincing viewers that people are in love, chemistry between friends is almost harder to generate because it requires an intimacy that isn’t always physically shown but more emotionally present.  You buy that Feldstein and Dever would be friends in the movie and in real life and while Molly is the more alpha of the two, Amy is no shrinking violet at the end of the day.  We know from the start that Amy is a lesbian and the film wisely starts with the whole “coming out” story long since told – now she’s just finding her way and I appreciated that she was treated like everyone else in the movie looking for love and just as confused as the rest of them.

With so many memorable performances in the movie, from Billie Lourd’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) scene-stealing party girl to Skyler Gisondo (Vacation) as a try-hard looking to impress Molly, it seems wrong to single out just one actor but Feldstein is the true breakout star of Booksmart.  Ably holding her own against Bette Midler on the Broadway stage in Hello, Dolly! two years ago and proving a good foil for Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird (a role quite similar to Molly) in 2017, Feldstein finally steps fully into the spotlight and earns her place in the sun.  As much as Molly deserves to be taken down a notch or suffer through an embarrassing situation…if it weren’t for Feldstein’s irrepressible charm you’d be ready to push her off a cliff but instead you completely get where she’s coming from.

If we must talk negatives, I can drudge up a few. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the soundtrack to this (sorry/not sorry) or an unnecessary subplot involving a teacher-student relationship and that’s what ultimately keeps the movie from being in the true upper echelon of high school comedies. Even that being said, Booksmart almost instantly earns a right to walk the hallowed halls of high school fame.  It’s fun, it’s riotously funny, and I enjoyed having absolutely no clue how it would end — that’s saying a lot for a genre comedy that’s been done many times before.

The Silver Bullet ~ Table 19

table_nineteen

Synopsis: Ex-maid of honor Eloise – having been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text- decides to attend the wedding anyway only to find herself seated with 5 “random” guests at the dreaded Table 19.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: I seem to have attended more weddings in the past two years than I have in my entire lifetime and have enjoyed each one of them.  Not only were they unique individual celebrations but I’ve been lucky enough to be seated at some fun tables and have met new friends. This first look at Table 19 introduces us to some characters that feel the burn of the high-number table assignment and decide to do something about it. Seems I’m eternally on the fence with Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2) but I’ll trek through mountains of toulle and tasteless wedding cake to see anything Lisa Kudrow (The Girl on the Train) is in. This seems to be one of those indie films picked up for a song hoping to be a sleeper hit, but I’ll walk down the aisle with it if there’s more funny stuff not shown in the trailer.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

girl_on_the_train

Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.