Mighty Oak

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Mighty Oak Movie Poster Image
Somewhat dark rock dramedy has drinking, strong language.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about camaraderie, found families, empathy, teamwork, friendship. Families are encouraged to foster children's talents. Strong reincarnation theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Oak is a loving son, talented musician; also a good friend. Pedro is a patient, caring teacher and mentor. Gina adores her brother and later Oak, wants Army of Love to succeed again. Other band members encourage, support one another. Diverse racial representation. Some negative modeling too: Oak's good friend Darby helps him secure his first guitar but also routinely forges notes for him. Oak's mom loves him but is suffering from addiction, makes poor choices due to addiction.

Violence

Two upsetting deaths, one at beginning and one near the end. Possible spoiler alert: Vaughn dies in a fatal car accident, another character dies from an overdose. A boy checks his mother's breath because she spends a lot of time high on painkillers. Mentions of orphanhood, death, grief-induced suicidal ideation. References to mania, mental illness. Bullying scene: Oak is pushed and taunted by a classmate who steals his music journal. Emma intervenes by offering to fight the bully. A drunk woman and a sober man start to make out on a bed, but he stops, realizing she's too impaired to provide consent.

Sex

Flirting and kissing. A woman makes suggestive, objectifying comments about a "hot," and "brown sugar piece of candy" man being "thirsty" for another woman. A man calls a woman "hot," and she says he has "aged well."

Language

Lots of use of the word "s--t," by both children and adults. Other swearing/insult language includes "bulls--t," "bastard," "stupid," "crazy," "shut up," "screw you," "damn." 

Consumerism

Several visible or mentioned brands: Kia, Saab, Razor scooter, Apple iPod, iPhone, MacBook, Target, Big Lots, Popcornopolis, Stanley insulated mugs, San Diego tourist spot Lestat's Coffee House/music venue.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult character drinks and gambles; she drinks to excess in more than a couple of scenes, is also shown next to needles and prescription drugs. Other adults drink alcohol. In one joke, coffee-loving Oak asks for "shots"; when everyone looks at him, scandalized, he clarifies that he wants espresso. A character jokes that the band includes light alcoholism and gambling but not drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mighty Oak is a dramedy about a talented 10-year-old guitarist (the titular Oak, played by Tommy Ragen) who may or may not be the reincarnation of a singer who died 10 years earlier. Much of the movie is tween-friendly, but it has many uses of the word "s--t" (and other language), as well as heavy themes related to addiction/substance abuse, orphanhood, untreated mental illness, and grief. Several adults drink, one to excess, and one scene shows two people making out; one refuses to go further because the other is too drunk to consent. Themes include teamwork and empathy, as well as the importance of found families.

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What's the story?

MIGHTY OAK opens with Gina Jackson (Janel Parrish), manager of up-and-coming Southern California band Army of Love, listening to the band's frontman/her brother Vaughn's (Levi Dylan) idea for a new song. Soon after, the band -- which also includes Pedro (Carlos PenaVega), Darby (Ben Milliken), and Alex (Nana Ghana) -- is involved in a fatal car accident that kills Vaughn. Ten years later, Oak (Tommy Ragen), a 10-year-old boy who lives next door to the local café/music venue that Army of Love used to frequent, borrows Vaughn's guitar and proceeds to learn every Army of Love song he can find. When Gina witnesses Oak's ability to mimic Vaughn's playing style, she becomes convinced that it's a sign to get the band back together. Eventually Gina starts to believe that Oak is literally Vaughn reincarnated. Meanwhile, Oak's life at home is even more complicated, because his widowed mother (Alexa PenaVega), a veteran, is barely functional and addicted to painkillers.

Is it any good?

Director Sean McNamara's dramedy features a gifted child musician, but it's also a confusing mix of "edgy" and tween-targeted content, trying to balance kid jokes with heavy themes. The reincarnation premise of this Kidz Bop-meets-School of Rock movie could have been much funnier, but instead it's occasionally off-putting as it makes Gina seem fixated on both her dead brother and Oak. At one point Oak even asks, "If I'm just Oak, can I still be in the band?" and audiences will think "no" even as Gina answers "yes." The dialogue includes noticeably heavy use of the word "s--t," as well as an unusual fascination with Oak's age-inappropriate love of coffee and a cringe-worthy focus on Pedro's attractiveness (see Raven-Symoné's supporting role as Taylor, who frequently objectifies him).

Those aged-up details are in keeping with Mighty Oak's darkest plot detail: the relationship between Oak and his mother, who's often seen passed out or sleeping with a needle and an array of prescription drugs at her side. Opioid addiction in America is serious, and including it here feels like a significant misstep. The heavy themes definitely make for a dizzying contrast with the humor and the focus on Oak as an innocent 10-year-old who happens to have a gift for the electric guitar and songwriting. No doubt some will consider the movie a heart-tugging crowd-pleaser, but it's so muddled with its tone switching that it's difficult to think of it as an uplifting family film. There is a happily ever after, though, even if it feels too little too late after all the angst, addiction, and reincarnation drama.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about which character strengths are demonstrated in Mighty Oak. Why are teamwork and empathy important?

  • What do you think about Gina's belief in reincarnation? What do you think the filmmakers believe about it?

  • Do you think it's believable that people would enjoy a rock band fronted by a child singer? Who are the youngest popular singers you can think of?

  • How does the movie portray drinking and addiction? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • What are your favorite movies about musicians? Why are they so compelling? How does this movie compare to those?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love movies with music

Themes & Topics

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