Music movie

Musical film ‘Mighty Oak’ crumbles under its own weight

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

Mighty oak

Directed by: Sean McNamara

With: Janel Parrish, Carlos PenaVega, Tommy Ragen, Alexa PenaVega, Levi Dylan, Raven-Symoné

Rated: PG-13 for thematic content involving drug addiction, language, some pictures of accidents, and brief suggestive language

Available July 7 on: Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Sony PlayStation Video, Fandango NOW and more

Critical rating: 1½ stars out of 4

There is no such thing as a good musical film. The really big ones – think A star is born, La La Land, Straight out of Compton, almost famous and Whiplash – reinforce the importance of art. They can be inspiring, tragic, even funny; and they are still moving. But when a musical film stumbles, the result is often a forced and schlocky experience.

With Mighty oak, director Sean McNamara (Soul surfer) and writer Matt Allen (Four Christmases, Soul Surfer) are attempting a spiritual journey to demonstrate the healing power of music. Instead, they deliver a melodramatic hodgepodge that is light on authenticity and heavy on melodrama.

The film centers on Gina (Janel Parrish), the beautiful young manager of a promising rock band called Army of Love. The group is brought to life by the vocal and writing prowess of Gina’s brother, Vaughn (Levi Dylan). The remaining members – guitarist Pedro (Carlos PenaVega), drummer Alex (Nana Ghana) and bassist DB (Rodney Hicks) – are also extremely close. In fact, Gina has an intermittent romantic relationship with Pedro. Just when it looks like the group is about to explode, the entire team is involved in a devastating car crash that leaves Vaughn dead and Gina unable to continue.

Gina, however, comes out of her depression when she meets Oak Scoggins (Tommy Ragen), a 4e prodigy rank which expresses his desire to reunite Army of Love. The youngster reminds her of Vaughn so much that she can’t say “No”.

The setup is nice, but it feels as forced as it looks… especially when Gina and her company start to see Oak as a new version of Vaughn. Ragen is a real musician and he is extremely talented for an 11 year old. Having said that, he is 11 years old and his age is obvious every time he sings. This makes every streak with him at the helm of the band play like an act of novelty on America has talent. It’s hard to believe that Gina – or anyone else – would see Oak as a rightful savior of the group. Considering that the entire movie is built on the premise that he’s a suitable replacement for Vaughn, this is problematic.

To their credit, Allen and McNamara have bigger ideas in mind. They clearly hope viewers will think about interesting topics ranging from mortality to mental illness. They also want us to think about the connections that define human beings. These are interesting ideas, but they are presented in such a clumsy way that it is difficult to buy into them, as many viewers will be rather busy analyzing the tearful plots.

Ragen, Parrish, PenaVega, and the rest of the cast are quite charming, but some elements of the story are underdeveloped while others hit audiences like a hammer. We don’t watch Mighty oak as much as he / she is manipulated by it. Some filmmakers, including Chief Steven Spielberg, can get away with this type of manipulation. But Spielberg is nuanced. With Mighty oak, you can feel McNamara and Allen pulling on the sensitive cords, and it’s more uncomfortable than effective.

Given that Ragen is a charismatic presence and a talented musician, it’s off-putting to criticize his debut. But the cruel fact is, Mighty oak is not the best stage for his donations. It is easy to imagine him becoming a formidable artist. When that happens, this film will be remembered as his big break, but it will not be remembered as his seminal work… nor that of anyone else involved.

Authors biography :

Forrest Hartman, a Intellectual magazine contributor, is a longtime entertainment journalist who teaches in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at California State University, Chico.

For Highbrow Magazine