Movies about musicians can be amazing, but they can also fall into some really bad cliches. Unfortunately, Might Oak (2020) hits a lot of the cliches too hard, and the plot sets up so many things – and each one gets tied up too cleanly, leaving things feeling very contrived and constructed. Fortunately, the cast performs quite well, and the music is enjoyable enough to make the experience with this film tolerable.
Army of Love is on the peak of greatness until a tragic car accident kills the lead singer, Vaughn (Levi Dylan). Gina (Janel Parrish), Vaughn’s sister and the band’s manager, has spent the ten years since the loss of her brother in a stereotypical downward spiral of alcoholism, gambling addiction, and self-loathing. A need to pawn Vaughn’s old guitar sends her colliding with her ex-boyfriend and guitar player of AOL, Pedro (Carlos PenaVega), who has discovered the young and extremely talented Oak (Tommy Ragen). Gina sees in Oak her brother and decides to get the band back together while looking for closure.
If you grew up watching Big Time Rush, or if you have children who were actively watching it, you’ll likely recognize PenaVega. He is tasked with carrying the comedic weight of the film but also gets to flex his dramatic muscles a bit. His performance is easily one of the best in the film, which makes it much more enjoyable than it would have been without him. Parrish performs well, but her character is the epitome of the cliches this film clings to. Gina manages to be likable, despite a few scenes where the generic characterizations take over.
Ragen is the reason for the existence of this film. He is a real-life musical prodigy, and the music reflects his talent. However, at times Oak is too precocious, and Ragen isn’t necessarily an acting prodigy. Not to criticize a young actor as he does fine, but there are clear moments when he is either being over or under-directed by Sean McNamara. It tends to be the director’s ability to work with child actors that dictate the success or failure of the performance. Raglan doesn’t fail, but the big scenes that call on more acting definitely suffer.
Mighty Oak has so many melodramatic moments and plot threads that feel overwrought. Oak’s mother is “sick” or an “addict”, which is resolved in a very satisfying way that leads to even more drama. There is no reason to spoil anything, but if you are watching and notice something, just know that it will come back later in the film. Things will feel constructed, and little will be left to ponder or question in a deeper way.
The film has moments that make it watchable. It is definitely elevated a bit by the cast. The moments that encourage eye-rolling come frequently, but at least there is a solid soundtrack and some decent original songs. Musician movies can be outstanding, but if they are suffering from too many cliches, they can quickly spiral to intolerable. Mighty Oak earns the Not a Total Waste of Time.