“I wanted to inspire hope and remind people to enjoy the moment. No matter what mistakes you make, always know that another day to get it right awaits.”
– David Skato
Impressed with my Amazon Queen review, Vision Films asked me to review a few more films, here is one of them ‘Once Upon A Lifetime’. Written and directed by David Skato.
Once Upon A Lifetime is written and directed by David Skato, co-produced with Cecily Jamelia. With executive producers Magalene Sudduth, Narlyia Sterling, Jensen Atwood, and Skato.
The Official Synopsis:-
“As a little boy struggles to cope with his difficult home life and his parents’ failing marriage, a mysterious girl suddenly appears. Faith, family, and a special kind of magic come together as his new friend teaches them all about love, forgiveness, and healing. Miracles sometimes happen when we least expect them.”
The film opens with some rather choice language from a high school bully beating upon Thomas (Phoenix Nicholson). While Thomas is on the ground, he sees a strange girl watching him. He sees the girl again shortly after another beating and they have an odd conversation. Something is not quite right with the little girl. Is she a ghost, an alien or something else? Thomas decides to make a sharp exit from the girl only for here to appear outside his home. His mom Tatyana (Arie Thompson) befriends the girl, now called Joy, and invites her to stay while they figure things out. Soon a strange thing happens overnight…. Joy gets older….
There are a handful of films that explore the concept of rapid aging, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old
and David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button spring to mind. Whilst ‘Old’ concentrates on the mystery of an aging family stuck on an island and Benjamin Button is a love story around de aging, Once Upon a Lifetime uses a rapidly aging stranger to help a family understand and come to terms with its issues.
The script deals with school bullying, A husband who is having an affair, A mom who is too proud or scared to do anything about it, and it even has a heartfelt discussion on death.
One area where the script seems a little disappointing, is the family structure. Once Upon a Lifetime seems to be focused on a very traditional if not old school family dynamic. One where the man provides for the family and the woman simply cooks, cleans, and looks after the kids. Some more character developments could have brought out a more modern style family dynamic.
I’m not sure if its cost or running time but some cuts between scenes leave unanswered questions. For example, Thomas goes to camp on once scene but is soon back at the family home in the other – Who picked him up, when did he get back home?
Its not all doom and gloom though, Skato has injected humour thought-out , that breaks up the serious topics. Joy has a streak of naivety that continues as she ages, and this allows for some nice moments for the cast to play off. A reoccurring joke with a doctor was fun.
Overall, the script structured well and Skato does a fine job with Joys aging and impact on family dynamic.
Arie Thompson as Tatyana and Jensen Atwood as Joseph
Thompson’s character is a women scorned. Torn between protecting a failing marriage, caring for her family, and suddenly having to care for Joy. Thompson gives a powerful performance. You believe that she is the Mom of the family. Thomson can be comedic when needed and throw a full-on melt down when called for. You can tell she is giving it everything in the scene when she realises that her marriage is over, she shows a lot of raw emotion (and is much in need of a tissue!) it’s a shame then, that the same level of passion doesn’t come back the other way from her on screen Husband (Atwood). Atwood’s Husband character is about a low a man as you could get. His idea of being a real man is to have an affair for about a year and then tell his wife face to face. I didn’t really buy Atwood as the nasty husband. He comes across as a nice fellow and his attempts to play upset husband come across a bit creepy. In the ‘break-up’ scene whilst Thompson is giving her all, Atwoods reaction is to sit there with a glazed look, hardly any reaction. Yet in other scenes when he parading around his house berating Jo, it’s like a different actor is playing Joseph.
Special Mention has to be given to all the actors that played Joy..
Raquel Reyes = Joy age 9, Reyes is first up playing the confused stranger with a grin. Reyes captures and created Joy’s personality perfectly and provided a good basis for those that followed.
Sophia Glemaud plays Joy at 16 Glemaud looks familiar to me but I do not know where from, In Once Upon A Lifetime she takes the character queues from Reyes and adapts them to a teenager. A little older, the teenage Joy is both confused and amazed at the same time. A difficult task to pull off but Glemaud nails it, Joy’s smile continued on…
Cecily Jamelia plays Joy at 40. Jamelia takes Joy’s personality and adapts it to be a little older but not a little wiser. Jamelia managed to find some fun in Joy learning to drink alcohol whilst an adult and she continued the smile….
Joan Moten plays Joy at 70. As the last Joy, Moten had the responsibility of losing Joy’s sense of playfulness and switching to a more sombre topic of death. Played just as well as the others Moten made sure that her personality traits carried through, even the smile.
Phoenix Nicholson as Thomas..
Casting Thomas had to be right as the character has a lot to do in this film. Nicholson is cast perfectly. Not only does he look like he can hold his own in a fight (and take the punches) he is able to convey the sensitive side of being a child amiss a parental break up and switch to just being a kid enjoying life when around Joy. It’s a great performance and without him the film simply would not work!
For an independent film shot on a budget Once Upon a Lifetime has a decent score / soundtrack. Skato does not feel the need to fill every scene with background music and this is really refreshing. Independent films have a tendency to be filled with end-to-end library music that can get quite grating.
Unfortunately though the sound quality, on the screener I viewed, was not too great. Some scenes sounded warbly ( I get the the same effect when I do too much noise reduction on my podcast) other scenes could benefit from a spot of noise reduction. I am mindful that I watched a pre release version on a streaming service so that could account for it.
The film is complemented by some tracks by the Artist Emorie.
The screener did not specify the video quality, but it looked sharp enough. The imagery was bright and the film makes good use of stock footage in-between scenes (look out for a surprise squirrel) I did notice a couple of shots that had trouble with contrast losing some definition, but that’s a small grumble. Overall, the videography was very well done.
As far as effects go, the make-up is ok and not over the top.
Once Upon a Lifetime is a charming independent film, well written, well produced, well-acted.
The film explores how people can enter your life without reason and provide a positive impact and then suddenly vanish seemingly job done.
Its out across vod platforms and is well worth seeking out.
written, produced and directed by David Skato
co-produced Cecily Jamelia.
Executive producers are Magalene Sudduth, Narlyia Sterling, Jensen Atwood, and Skato.
Starring Arie Thompson (The Wrong Family),
Jensen Atwood (Before “I Do“),
Phoenix Nicholson (All My Children),
Krystian Lyttle (This is Us),
Marilyn Johnson (A Hopeless Father),
Raquel Reyes (Spirit),
Sophia Glemaud (Good Cop Bike Cop),
Melanie Thompson (Charlie),
Cecily Jamelia (Beverly Hills Fabulous),
and Joan Moten (Maggie).
Once Upon a Lifetime will be available on all major streaming and cable platforms, and on DVD, in the US and Canada on December 7.
About Vision Films
Vision Films is a leading independent sales and VOD aggregator specializing in the licensing, marketing, and distribution of over 800 feature films, documentaries, and series from some of the most prolific independent film producers in the world. Led by Lise Romanoff, Managing Director/CEO Worldwide Distribution, Vision Films releases 2-4 films a month across Theatrical, VOD, DVD, and television platforms. visionfilms.net
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