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World's Best

The last few years have been a kind of golden age for movies and TV about middle school. High school has always gotten more attention from filmmakers, possibly because most would prefer to forget the awkward transition from childhood to adolescence. However, those awkward, if not painful, moments that define middle school can make for great drama and rich comedy (“Eighth Grade” and the Hulu series “Pen15” come to mind as great examples that do both). 

“World’s Best” is more of a family film than the aforementioned movies and series but it is no less insightful about the ‘tween years. Set in contemporary New Jersey, it tells the story of Prem Patel (played by a charming Manny Magnus), a driven math whiz who is gearing up for the mathlympics competition. His single mom Priya (Punam Patel), is doting and supportive, but she also feels like a complete human being, not just the "mom." 

This is expressed nicely when she takes Prem into her own memories of how she met his late father Suresh (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, who also co-wrote the screenplay), who Prem is shocked to learn was a local legend in the underground hip-hop scene. This is where “World’s Best” reveals itself to be a hip-hop musical. Suresh begins visiting his son and passing on his evangelical passion for hip-hop. 

Much to Priya’s dismay, Prem enters himself in the talent show, and his interest in performing threatens to usurp his passion for math. At this point, “World’s Best” also seems to borrow ever so slightly from the superhero film, particularly the origin story. Prem's daddy issues are reminiscent of most of the MCU’s characters, particularly his struggle to reconcile what his parents want for him versus what he wants for himself. Along the way, there are the usual bits of middle school drama, specifically the betrayal of friends who drift away from each other and into opposing cliques. 

“World’s Best” succeeds thanks to the brisk pacing at 100 minutes and Roshan Sethi’s deft handling of the ups and downs of ‘tweenhood. The emotions are earned, and the playful tone accommodates the more serious reveals and complications nicely. Ambudkar and Magnus’ chemistry goes a long way toward making the film work. You believe them as father and son, and their joy at making music together is infectious. 

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Film Credits

World's Best movie poster

World's Best (2023)

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language.

101 minutes


Utkarsh Ambudkar as Suresh

Manny Magnus as Prem

Punam Patel as Priya

Kathryn Greenwood as Ms. Sage

Max Malas as Jerome

Piper Wallace as Claire

Kayla Njeri as Mercedes

Noah Lamanna as Naomi

Maya McNair as Amanda






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