Chone (Lee Paris) is a bright and gifted 16-year-old trying to navigate life in writer/director Robert Butler’s feature film Life Ain’t Like The Movies. The narrative observes the teen’s trials and tests along the path to adulthood. Chone’s journey begins with an assignment from his teacher, Mr. Peterson (William C. Ingram). He asks his class to keep a journal to document each student’s thoughts and feelings throughout the year. But in the case of Chone, Mr. Peterson gives him a video camera as he sees great things in Chone and recognizes his passion for cinema.
Now tasked with closely reflecting on his life, Chone is faced with his first test when a classmate, Chad (Connor Kearns), calls him the N-word. The two get into a heated exchange, and Chone punches Chad in the face as Mr. Peterson is there to witness the act. Chone is suspended, with Chad getting a slap on the wrist. While on suspension, Chad makes his moves on Chone’s best friend, Lola (Jhayla Mosley). The two start dating, and two-faced Chad then warns Chone to stay away from Lola or else.
The first thing you’ll notice with Life Ain’t Like The Movies is it’s a low-budget DIY title. I’ll get the technical criticisms out of the way first. The biggest problem is the sound, and you can tell the audio was worked over to boost the volume levels from the original footage. The problem with sound plagues the entire movie and takes getting used to in the end. Unfortunately, the sound is the one thing filmmakers can’t afford to get wrong.
There are two fight scenes between Chone and Chad, and they are animated, while the rest of the film is not. Staging and choreographing a fight scene is complicated, and there are also safety concerns involving the minors. As such, using animation isn’t a terrible idea. But, I bring this issue up only to say that the animation tips the hand that the movie is low-budget, which you don’t necessarily want to call attention to.
“…Chone is faced with his first test when a classmate…calls him the N-word.”
What Life Ain’t Like The Movies has going for it is the story. While its coming-of-age themes are not deadly deep like The Breakfast Club, it’s a heartfelt story of a young man trying to make sense of the world. It’s also a touching story of a black family standing together. Life at home is tough… more teenage tough. Chone’s dad, Jack (Wendell Kinney), becomes increasingly disappointed with Chone’s disinterest in sports as he’d rather read comic books and watch/make films. At the same time, when Chone is suspended for fighting, Jack stands up for his son, demanding equal punishment for Chad.
But, Chone finds safety and refuge in his grandfather, Pops (Paul Bates). He dispenses lessons to this grandson about life being a struggle and the time to fight. Pops also gives Jack some fatherly wisdom about accepting Chone for who he is and now what he wants his son to become. It’s all pretty moving.
For most of the teen cast members, this is their first acting gig, and the film is a strong start for them all. Lee Paris does a fantastic job carrying the movie, and his supporting cast is just as good. As actors and filmmakers, you’ve got to start somewhere, and thankfully the tools to make films are readily available. In other words, tell your story, no excuses.
Life Ain’t Like The Movies falls in the light drama category that I’d liken to afterschool specials. Unfortunately, the sound makes it hard to stick with all that is happening. But, if you can fight through the flaws, Butler’s tale has an uplifting message young people need to hear.
"…Lee Paris does a fantastic job carrying the movie..."